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Wednesday, May 19, 2021

New legislation forces ACT energy retailers to offer better deal

The ACT Government this week announced new legislation that will require energy retailers to tell customers if a better deal is available.

Making the announcement on Tuesday 20 April, Chief Minister and Treasurer, Andrew Barr, said energy prices were “notoriously hard to compare”, especially for those who couldn’t afford to spend time exploring their options.

“These new rules will require energy retailers to tell you about a ‘reference price’ – a common benchmark that your deal will be compared against – and to tell you if a better deal is available, without you having to ask.”

ACT Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Shane Rattenbury says residential and business customers will benefit from a “fast track to the best possible deal”. Image: Kerrie Brewer

Mr Barr said the difference between a standing offer price and the best market price could be up to $400 a year, and about 40% of Canberrans were on standing offer contracts.

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Shane Rattenbury, recommended further measures ACT residents could implement to “take the power back” and reduce energy bills.

“Using less power on the best possible deal is a winning combination,” he said.

“Improving energy efficiency is the other major cost saver that’s available to all Canberrans.”

Mr Rattenbury said 74,000 households and businesses were saving an average $300 per year for households and $5,200 per year for businesses after participating in the ACT Government’s Energy Efficiency Improvement Scheme.

ACT Council of Social Services (ACTCOSS) CEO Dr Emma Campbell said she was pleased to see legislation that will increase transparency and help consumers.

“These new rules will benefit all Canberrans, but particularly those facing income stress or other engagement barriers, such as time restrictions due to caring, digital exclusion, limited English language proficiency and other complex life circumstances,” she said.

“Energy justice requires that low-income and vulnerable consumers have ready access to electricity at a manageable cost.”

She said ACTCOSS was “keen to ensure that they do not result in a perverse outcome for consumers” by passing the costs of compliance on to consumers “in a way that negates any customer benefit derived”.

Dr Campbell said it was important to note the new rules alone were not enough to ensure energy justice in the ACT.

She urged the ACT Government to consider improvements to the Utilities Concession, the Utilities Hardship Fund, and to “explore options to support the broader cohort of vulnerable energy consumers in the ACT”.

Earlier this month, ACT’s energy distributor announced the electricity bill of the average ACT household will rise by nearly $5.50 per week, or $300 per year.

On 6 April, Evoenergy announced a 36% price hike on the network portion of residential bills and 41% for low voltage commercial customers in 2021/22.

Evoenergy attributed the increase to a 133% rise in the jurisdictional charge resulting from the ACT Government’s 100% renewable energy target.

In response, Leader of the Opposition Elizabeth Lee MLA said the government failed to keep a promise that electricity bills would decrease by $43 annually in 2020/21.

“The government needs to be upfront and tell Canberrans what they will do to keep power bills affordable,” she said.

Dr Campbell last week said efforts to mitigate climate change must not lead to the entrenchment or exacerbation of disadvantage.

She wrote to Mr Barr and Mr Rattenbury, calling for action to protect households, not-for-profits and small businesses from the energy price hikes forecast by Evoenergy.

“We must have a just transition to renewable energy – an equitable distribution of risks and costs,” Dr Campbell said.

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