THE State Government may suspend the installation of electricity smart meters while it reviews the embattled major project.
Prabath Gamage from Broadmeadows with his smart meter. Picture: Craig Borrow Herald Sun
Energy Minister Michael O’Brien will this month seek details on the cost and legal implications of delaying the rollout ahead of an audit of the $2 billion system.
A full review of potential improvements and whether it is worth dumping the scheme for an alternative will be commissioned amid concerns that consumer benefits have been overstated.
Every household and small business is paying to replace old meters with the digital technology, even before their installation.
Mr O’Brien estimates families will be charged $900 each for meter hardware over the next 15 to 20 years.
Outer suburban residents, including Broadmeadows, Sunbury and Craigieburn, will pay the highest charge, $109.68, this year.
Regulators have approved the lowest annual fee of $57.70 to be spread across quarterly bills, for outer north and eastern Victoria.
So far, about 300,000 meters, which monitor consumption every half hour, have been fitted.
Mr O’Brien told the Herald Sun the new Government would press ahead with its election pledge for an unbiased audit of the program, which has been plagued with cost blowouts and allegations of mismanagement.
“If there are skeletons in the closet, I want them on the table,” Mr O’Brien said.
He assured householders they would not be forced on to “time of use” prices with high penalties for using peak power during the day and in summer and discounts for using electricity late at night.
The industry is likely to vigorously oppose a rollout suspension, arguing that changing contract arrangements will cost tens of millions of dollars.
The cost-benefit review, to take three to six months, will be the fourth since smart meters were mooted.
“Like myki, so much money has already been invested in this program, the difficulties in going back to square one would be enormous,” Mr O’Brien said.
The Department of Primary Industries said the meters would eventually reduce supply costs by removing manual reads, managing demand, restoring power faster after faults and blackouts and helping consumers control consumption and bills.
“After the upgrade, Victorians will benefit from a better, more efficient system, which will keep the cost to supply electricity lower than it otherwise would have been,” the DPI website reads.