The Victorian state government has finally twigged that most people will get screwed by electricity smart meters.
Energy Minister Peter Batchelor announced an indefinite moratorium on the smart meter rollout to every home across the state – because of concerns pensioners and the poor would be hardest hit by higher electricity prices. The writing has been on the wall for some time.
Smart meters are designed to track your energy usage and they have some really cool applications in terms of energy efficiency and home automation. They also allow energy retailers to charge more for electricity during times of peak demand. Unless you work night shift and sleep all day, you’ll almost certainly end up with higher electricity bills once you get a smart meter. People at home during the day will get slugged the most – pensioners, the unemployed, stay-at-home parents and people like me who work at home.
Last year the Victorian Auditor-General’s office slammed the electricity industry’s early efforts to introduce smart meters, as well as the Department of Primary Industries overseeing the project. A report on the early rollout found ”the level of community engagement has been inadequate” with ”significant unexplained discrepancies” between industry’s economic estimates and other studies.
Estimates vary, but the Department of Primary Industries believes households will pay between $40 and $50 a year for the new meters. On top of this will most likely be a higher usage bill.
”The cost-benefit analysis is unclear about how stakeholders, particularly consumers, will benefit and who should bear which costs. There is little evidence to show that when the project was designed, the resultant benefits and costs were adequately considered. It is therefore possible that there will be an inequitable, albeit unintended, transfer of economic benefits from consumers to industry,” according to the report.
In other words, the smart meters might be a smart idea for the electricity industry but not so great for consumers as they end up getting slugged with higher bills.
Some electricity providers are trying to put a positive spin on smart meters, presenting them as a tool for tackling climate change. I see them more as a blatant money grab, especially when you consider it won’t be possible for many households to transfer the bulk of their energy usage – such as heating, cooling, cooking and entertainment – to offpeak times. I won’t be impressed if my neighbours start vacuuming at two in the morning just to shave a few dollars off their electricity bill.
I have no problem with a user pays system. I’d be happy to pay slightly higher bills as long as the providers were honest about it up front – but the Auditor-General’s report makes it clear that the electricity providers are being less than honest with consumers. The electricity providers are trying to paint smart meters as a benefit to consumers when they’ll clearly be a burden. It’s little surprise that, in an election year, the government has decided to temporarily pull the plug on smart meters.