Good morning Chairman and committee members. I thank you for your invitation here today. From small beginnings, SSE Airtricity has grown substantially since its entry into the market in 2008. It has achieved this by investing more than €2.5 billion here and creating direct employment for more than 800 employees, up from 120 employees at that time. This investment means we own and operate over 1500MW of generation capacity, one third of which is renewably generated wind power.
We have driven market competition and have built up a customer base of 800,000 customers, up from 40,000 in 2009. We have done this by offering some of the most competitive prices in the market. Customers who switched to SSE Airtricity have saved over €100 million since our entry into the domestic market in 2009, all the more important given the tough economic conditions we have gone through over the same period.
It was during these difficult economic times that SSE made some of Ireland's largest capital investments. I am pleased to report that in the last year alone we have completed our Athea wind farm in County Limerick, a €70 million investment which created 300 jobs during its construction. We are nearing the completion of our new 460MW gas-fired power plant in County Wexford, a €330 million investment that created more than 1,200 jobs during construction, 80% from the local area. We have just begun construction of Ireland's largest wind farm, the 170MW Galway Wind Park in partnership with Coillte. This €280 million investment will employ more than 350 people during its construction.
Over the past five years our business in Ireland has delivered a dividend of €70 million to its shareholders enabling us to generate significant economic activity and jobs here. As illustrated in our recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report, SSE's Economic Contribution to Ireland, SSE has contributed €956 million to Irish GDP in 2014 alone directly providing more than 800 full-time jobs and supporting an additional 5,150 jobs. This was the equivalent of 0.3% of total Irish employment and 0.6% of Irish GDP in the fiscal year 2014.
A core value for SSE is sustainability. We live this value by investing in low carbon generation sources and by investing €1.2 million every year in community projects through our wind farm community funds. In particular, we seek to help communities reduce their energy consumption by investing in energy efficiency initiatives. One recent example is the retrofit of 107 local authority fuel-poor homes in County Limerick in partnership with Limerick County Council and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland SEAI. This was provided free of charge to those households. We have also successfully completed retrofitting a further 412 council homes with local authorities in Wexford and Fingal.
While I felt it important to set out the overall economic value of SSE's investment in Ireland I expect much of our discussion here this morning will centre on energy costs for consumers, ensuring customers benefit from falling wholesale markets and protecting them from rising prices. Let me assure Members that this is a priority for us at SSE. If there are more savings we can pass on, we will pass them on in due course. Driving this is Ireland's highly competitive retail market where SSE Airtricity must deliver competitive and value based energy products in order to attract and retain customers. In doing so, we at SSE Airtricity are also particularly focused on helping our most vulnerable customers. This is why SSE Airtricity has been to the forefront in deploying prepayment meters to help customers in managing their bills, and also ensuring that they are on the cheapest pay as you go tariff in the market.
In January, we announced that SSE Airtricity is reducing its gas tariff by 4% and its electricity tariff by 2% for all customers. This reduction applies to both the unit rate and standing charge. While market commentators suggested that bigger decreases were achievable, we would ask the committee to note three things. Wholesale prices represent half of the consumer's bill. Individual companies' hedging policies, foreign exchange rates, timing and the volatility of commodity markets directly influence price. Finally, while commodity prices, particularly oil, have reduced over a short period, other costs have increased. These include the cost of policy measures such as energy efficiency. Costs such as market operator charges, use of system charges and public service obligation costs are not in the control of generation or supply businesses, but they offset decreases in wholesale prices.
During difficult economic times SSE Airtricity has made significant investments of around €2.5 billion; directly and indirectly created employment for almost 6,000 people and saved its customers more than €100 million. To remain competitive in a crowded market we must ensure that we are passing on savings to customers and offering products they value. It is also important that those costs not in the control of generators and suppliers are minimised, that all customers realise the savings achievable through supplier switching and that costs more aligned with social policy are removed from the bill and funded through the Exchequer. Thank you for your time and attention.