The Great Australian Electricity Rip-Off
Right, now I’m getting really &*%$ed off.
Although I’ve spent more than two decades in the solar and energy field, in the last two years as solar has grown and we have become an intrinsic and material part of Australia’s energy mix I have come to realize something fundamental.
The Australian public is being duped and constantly lied to on a monumental scale when it come to electricity.
Now I am a fundamentally trusting person; it’s the way I was brought up. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I always give people, Governments and corporations the benefit of the doubt.
However, the more I read, research and understand about the way our electricity system operates the more alarmed I become. Events of the last few weeks have simply brought it all home for me.
Lets look at a few examples.
The facts on what the RET does and doesn’t cost are absolutely, 100% clear, ironically thanks to a Government body, The Australian Energy Market Commission. It’s the single smallest component of electricity bills (bar one) and is already declining in proportional terms.
And yet, from the Prime Minister all the way down to the subtle messages passed on to their very close friends in media who helped them gain power, time and time again the RET (and the Carbon Price) are made out to be the root of all evil.
This is despite the data, the facts and the truth from their own departments. I am boggled and stunned by the willingness of our leaders to lie about this issue and to overlook the real source of price rises. Even Joe Hockey (who seems like a nice bloke) jumped on the band wagon yesterday suggesting that the RET had something to do with Alcoa’s decision to exit Australia despite the fact that the company had received tens of Millions of dollars in exemptions and grants. The only ones not blaming the RET and the Carbon Price were Alcoa.
The real source of price rises
When you look at the data, it shows you some staggering facts about what is really going on. Take for example, one of Australia’s largest network owners, NSW Government owned Ausgrid.
Ausgrid has the single largest share of customers in the entire National Electricity Market (around 18%) making them the canary in the coal mine. In its 2013 report, the Australian Energy Regulator had this to say: “There have been many large changes in the relative and overall magnitude of the charging parameters within the period. Of particular note is the 471.14 per cent increase in the fixed charge in 2012–13, 18 per cent decreases in energy charges in 2006–07 and over 200 per cent increases in energy charges in 2009–10.”
Did you get that ? Ausgrid, a Government owned network operator increased fixed charges by 471.14 % to business customers.
If you look at it over the period 2004 to 2013 it is a total increase of 1125%. Peak energy costs increased 600%, shoulder by 649%, Off peak by 1111% and peak capacity by 869%.
So despite all the bleating about wanting to reduce peak demand they have in fact increased fixed charges which consumers can have NO IMPACT on, no matter how hard they try. These ”price signals” are counter intuitive to reducing peak demand and in fact utterly dis-empower consumers in a most profound way. And they are completely Government sanctioned.
If that’s not enough, the same report actually shows that in 44 out of 46 cases across 8 network companies between 2005 and 2011, revenues ( that are regulated) were ABOVE expectation. That means they made more profit and we all paid for it. And guess what; when you look at the AEMC’s data here’s what it shows is going to happen as a proportion of the average National electricity bill between 2014 and 2016:
- Distribution network charges will RISE by 8.2%
- Generation costs will RISE by 5.7%
- Retail Margins will RISE by 6.3%
- Transmission costs will RISE by 6.7%
- The RET (Small and Large scale) will REDUCE by 55.6%
Of course, these changes could be somewhat masked by State price setting regimes and the assumed removal of the Carbon Price. How terribly, terribly convenient.
But lets not forget the retailers because after all “they just pass on the regulated network costs from the distributors” (like Ausgrid). Poor bastards. They are scrambling to scrap the RET at a rabid pace, have called it middle class welfare and are laying the blame for the countries woes squarely at our mutual, solar panel installing feet. All the while they have Government sanctioned approval to make proportionally MORE profit from you and me and every single Australian business owner and Alcoa of course, had they stayed.
Meanwhile, the regulators and the Government just keep saying “Don’t worry. its ok, you can just switch providers and save a FORTUNE because switching is really, really easy and the market is in a state of healthy market based competition”. Bullshit.
Firstly, the vast majority of the Australian electricity industry is still Government owned. Not really renowned for innovation or their creative market based behaviour, the Government.
Secondly, consumers are lazy and switching is a pain in the backside. Most of us are too busy dealing with life to worry about trying to save a few percent here or there. Where’s the reward for loyalty gone in this world, for goodness sake? And you know what? Switching and “customer churn” is on the increase and the poor utilities are facing increased costs because of it which is exactly the reason they are allowed to charge us more. Because we are all switching. Because that’s how we’ll save money. But it puts costs up. So it will cost us money. But we should switch because we’ll save money.
You’re getting this, right?
But hey, if we swallow the assumption (and advice from Government) that we will save money by switching then that’s awesome. You’ll knock 10 0r 15% off my bill? Yes? Awesome, because my last bill was a shocker. Terms and conditions? Yep, read all 279, 621 tiny little words of your terms and conditions after following ten links on your website (lie). Didn’t understand a word of (true). Yes, I’ll sign your contract because I’m Australian, you’re Australian and a deal is a deal. I’d spit and shake on it if you weren’t in Bangalore.
Now as it turns out, the totally awesome discount you just got is actually pretty “fluid”. Turns out current laws allow the retailers to increase the price they charge you for electricity at any time during a contract. No shit. But I hate switching, it’s a pain, so I’ll just lump it in 6 or 12 months when you hit me with a price rise caused by factors completely outside your control.
Wow, that wasn’t such a good deal after all.
Then there are the rules. My god, the rules. Simply trying to understand the rules and regulations that govern the industry and what they can and cant do is like trying to understand what your Optus phone is actually costing you. You have absolutely no hope.
Take business customers for example. I recently analysed 5 business bills, which were from different locations in Australia but all similar costs and by co-incidence, all from the same retailer.
Firstly, there was a a complete lack of consistency which made understanding and comparing them virtually impossible. Different terms for the same thing, slight changes in wording,some charges on energy, some on demand and an utter lack of consistency. In some cases customers paid for simply awesome things like “VIP Metering” and “Consumer advocacy”. Unreal. If I was a business owner, I would be so impressed to know that my retailer is charging me to be an advocate. For me. And then charging me. Now that’s service!
Then there is the complete and total transparency which allows me to compare commercial offerings. Yep, you can go to a web site, look at every offer in the market upload your consumption data and work out which offer is best. And its easy (switching, remember?). Bullshit.
There is a chasm greater than the Western Australia’s Big Pit here.
First, if you want to know your demand profile, they’ll take weeks and probably charge you. For knowing. Your consumption.
Secondly, if you ask for an offer, they’ll pretty quickly slot you into a demand “band”. No one actually knows what these bands are or what they mean and they vary by region, by offer, by your size and the color of your neighbors hair (god help you if they are a blood-nut). It’s like a mystery flight; just shut up, sit down and hang on. If you don’t know your demand yet, don’t worry because they have a secret formula so they can tell you how much it will cost and what your profile will look like. Without knowing anything about your demand. At all.
But hey, I’m probably being unfairly critical because its complicated; I couldn’t possibly hope to understand. Go right ahead.
Then of course, you might have a relationship going back many, many years with your retailer. You watch the news, you’ve seen the drought, you listened to the issues about peak demand and the greatest moral issue of our time and you decided; Screw it. I’ll stump up hundreds of thousands of dollars of my own money and whack some solar up.
Your retailers reaction? Well at least one I know of said “Awesome!” “We’ll just renegotiate the contract you broke, your energy rate will dramatically reduce from 25c kWh to 5c. Your standing charges (don’t worry about them) will increase form 25c a day to $2 day”. For those unfamiliar, that’s called “the big switcheroo”, formerly the domain of dudes in weird waistcoats with cups and balls, but now a wholly owned subsidiary of electricity retailers.
Oh and because the rules have changed to protect consumers (enter the National Energy Customer Framework) , if you want solar, we will need to come and do a horrendously expensive study because well, the fact that you have been on our network for thirty years and we approved everything counts for nothing. Because we have to protect you. In one actual case from a network operator one of the reason the gave for delaying a solar installation was, and I quote “The LV OH supply from the Council access track North of premises is quite sneaky visually and very hazardous to the unsuspecting. “
Damn it, sneaky wires. That’s a damn good reason to stop progress and infuriate a 30 year customer who’s (sneaky) installation was approved by you.You’re right. We are busted for excessive sneakiness.
I could go on with a myriad of other examples but I suspect you get my point.
The Government owns, regulates and controls the vast majority of the electricity industry in Australia all the way back to the coal reserves in some cases.. The make a phenomenal amount of money from it and don’t want it to change. Through their vast media connections they will say what is politically convenient even if it is complete and utter lie and we wont even get a return phone call from the same reporters.
It seems to me that they have all lied (or ignorantly deceived) themselves into a corner so dark, they just have to keep lying and hope no one notices.
Guess what? We noticed.
Maybe I should report them to ScamWatch.
Photo Credit: Australia Energy Rip-Off/shutterstock
Nigel Morris has been involved in the PV industry for almost 20 years and is the founder of SolarBusinessServices, one of Australia’s leading PV consultancies. He began his PV career as the manufacturing manager with one of Australia’s pioneers in renewable energy and during his 5 years there, was a system designer, manufacturer, installer, salesman and company director. In 1997 he moved ...
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