SSE chief Marchant to step down

Ian Marchant, chief executive of SSE, the UK’s second largest power supplier and largest generator of renewable electricity, will step down in mid-2013.

Marchant, 51, who spent more than a decade at the helm of Perth-based SSE (formerly known as Scottish and Southern Electricity), will be replaced by deputy chief executive Alistair Phillips-Davies.

An accountant by training, Marchant joined SSE’s predecessor company Southern Electric in 1992, and was promoted to the board as finance director when SSE was formed in 1998. He was appointed chief executive in 2002.

During his tenure, SSE was transformed into one of Europe’s largest renewables investors – a move accelerated massively by its €1.8bn ($2.4bn) acquisition of Dublin-based Airtricity in 2008 – and the utility will play a pivotal role in the UK's energy transition over the next two decades.

SSE maintains about 13GW of total generation capacity across the UK and Ireland, some 3GW of it renewables – mostly onshore wind and hydro.

In addition, it was awarded shares of two Round 3 offshore wind projects – the 9GW Dogger Bank and the 3.4GW Firth of Forth – and has 130,000km of power lines and more than 10 million retail power and gas consumers on its books.

While much of SSE’s renewables capacity was taken on via Airtricity, the utility has continued to invest heavily in space, bringing the 350MW Clyde onshore wind farm in Scotland and the 504MW Greater Gabbard offshore project on line last year.

Marchant’s departure comes at a hugely challenging time for power utilities across Europe, with spark prices weak due to high gas prices, environmental restrictions narrowing options, and capacity margins becoming menacingly tight in the UK, where the landscape is being fundamentally redrawn by the Electricity Market Reform package.

In 2011 Marchant took SSE out of the NuGeneration consortium, which seeks to build several new nuclear plants on UK soil, saying the utility’s long-term objective is to have “more than our fair share of renewables and less than our fair share of nuclear”.

Marchant gave no indication of his future plans.