FRIDAY’S information session on electricity billing was a powerful reminder of the frustration people have over rising costs of living and the retailers they blame.
Member for Bega Andrew Constance facilitated the session after concerns were raised by Bega electricity customers over confusing tariff charges and impacts of the carbon tax on household bills.
Leading those concerns were Tarraganda’s John D’Arcy and Andrew McPherson of Kalaru, both of whom have had their concerns publicised through the BDN in recent months.
Both men were also in the audience of around 20 at Friday’s meeting.
To offer information on the various components of electricity bills and answer questions were Jessie Foran, senior energy advisor with NSW Minister for Resources and Energy Chris Hartcher, Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) analyst John Smith, Jacqueline Crawshaw from the State Government’s Division of Resources and Energy and Origin Energy’s head of public policy Tim O’Grady.
When introducing the guest speakers, Mr Constance particularly thanked Mr D’Arcy for raising his concerns that he understood were also felt by others in the Bega Valley.
A common thread between the emotion-fuelled issues raised were the high cost of electricity in this area and the varying tariffs being charged to different customers.
Mr D’Arcy reiterated his complaint that energy retailers including Origin were “conning” customers onto a higher tariff by getting them to sign up for a new contract with the offer of discounts (BDN, 16/8).
An Origin customer, Mr D’Arcy pays a residential tariff of around 26 cents per kilowatt hour, but says any move to a different retailer, or indeed changing his current plan with Origin would see that rise to around 31c/kWh.
This is due to the older rate now classed as “obsolete” and no longer available.
IPART’s Mr Smith pointed out that if Mr D’Arcy is indeed on the lower tariff it was to his benefit.
Mr O’Grady from Origin said if any customer was on an obsolete tariff “generally you should stay on it”.
However, he also said, as the “legacy tariffs” of past years no longer cover the cost of providing power to consumers, Origin was in the process of moving customers off them.
“We’re trying to get rid of these obsolete tariffs, so any opportunity we can, any changes with customers’ circumstances, they [out of date tariffs] are gone,” he said.
The message there though was that any change in contract or the take up of a market offer – from Origin or any other retailer – is at the discretion of the customer.
It was pointed out that many wouldn’t necessarily check on associated tariff changes until their next bill rather than within the 10-day cooling-off period from signing a contract - or indeed even check their bill at all – so “smooth-talking salesmen” could be getting away with it.