Customers of SSE cut energy usage but profits stay at £1.3bn

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The Independent Online

Cash-strapped Britons' unwillingness to crank up the heating, plus more efficient homes, saw Scottish and Southern Energy customers' average gas consumption fall 19 per cent in the year to April.

SSE, which used to be known as Scottish & Southern Energy and millions of homeowners know as Southern Electric, slapped households with an 18 per cent hike in electricity prices and an 11 per cent jump in gas prices for winter in September, before dropping gas prices by 4.5 per cent from this week.

The company said its customers' electricity consumption was down by 7 per cent and gas by 19 per cent. But it blamed some of that on milder temperatures, saying that the weather-adjusted drop in consumption was about 4 per cent. Average bills for electricity and gas were £1118 without VAT for the year to April, down very slightly from £1,137 the previous year. SSE has promised its customers, who number some 10 million across the UK, that it won't raise energy prices before October.

Yesterday SSE told investors its pre-tax profit would be around the same level as last year's £1.3bn. It added the full-year dividend would be up by at least 2 per cent more than RPI inflation, at around 80p per share, slightly more than City analysts had expected. The energy giant added it had spent about £1.7bn on capital in the past 12 months, mainly on onshore wind farms. SSE already has the UK's largest onshore gas storage facility.

The chief executive Ian Marchant said: "The economic uncertainty and the challenges of global energy markets that have characterised recent years look set to continue for some time. I am pleased that even in such circumstances SSE has again demonstrated its ability to make progress and we are looking to get the new financial year off to the best possible start, in support of our ongoing commitment to sustained real dividend growth."

But although shares rose 7p to 1,329p in response to SSE's numbers, some in the City were gloomy on the stock. Angelos Anastasiou, an energy analyst at Investec, said: "There now need to be some tangible signs of the significantly increased capital expenditure of the past four years paying off. The 2011-12 full year will be the fourth year of lacklustre profit growth. We remain slightly wary."