Consumers will end up paying the price with smart meters, argues Neil Mitchell.
THERE’S no way to avoid this. By now you either have a smart meter in your power box or it’s belting on the cover trying to get in.
Either way, two things are beyond question.
First, it’s smart and you’re stupid. And second, the power companies installing them are more arrogant than a Collingwood supporter sniffing back-to-back premierships.
Admit it. Compared to anybody battling to pay a power bill, these meters are smart enough to have automatic entry to those boring clubs where horribly intelligent people sit around doing pointless puzzles and debating Green policies.
But let’s deal with our own stupidity first. On this deal, we can’t win.
Remember we pay for these devices whether we have them or not. That’s a good start.
Remember their main task is to make life easier for the power companies who charge us every time we flick a switch, and sometimes when we don’t. So we pay, they benefit.
And remember they are compulsory. You have no choice. Like voting, driving on the left-hand side of the road, and persecuting smokers, this must be done, says the Government.
Premier Ted Baillieu, who is desperately searching for something to do other than what he should be doing, is not to blame. It was the previous Government, as he is quick to remind anybody still awake.
But as his eight-month review of the smart meter program drags on, enough of these things have been installed as to confirm Victoria is a little bit pregnant – we’re stuck with it.
If the review concludes the rollout must continue, we’ll all pay more while the power distribution companies and suppliers spend less.
If the review stops the rollout, those that have been installed can’t be removed, so a hybrid system will continue. Power companies say that will add “substantially” to the costs. And guess who’ll pay?
In the last six months of last year the St Vincent de Paul Society found power bills had jumped between 4 per cent and 12 per cent, depending on where you live. So, get used to it. Whatever happens with this review, you’ll pay more.
Now, to the arrogance. These distribution companies may be terrific with tall poles but they handle living, breathing, bill-paying people with the sensitivity of a London looter.
The increasingly frustrated Energy Minister, Michael O’Brien, admits as much: “I think one of the problems we have inherited is that responsibility for the rollout is with the distribution businesses which have not had much of a reputation for dealing with real people.”
He’s right. Complaints to the industry ombudsman have doubled, and the inquiry has spawned blunt messages from the companies that the public is first, stupid and must be re-educated, and second, must be forced to accept smart meters whether they like it or not.
Months ago the Government did a deal that anybody wishing to defer the meters could do so. But still the companies plough on, intimidating and threatening people who simply want to delay the installation until Baillieu’s decision.
Powercor is an example. The company claims to tell customers on its website that they may defer installation. If that’s true it’s well hidden.
And a letter sent under the Powercor/Citipower letterhead to customers who object says this: “The smart meter program has been mandated by the Victorian Government. This law does not entitle any customer to ‘opt out’ of having a smart meter installed.”
So what should happen? Baillieu should forget silly diversions like fiddling in your kid’s lunch box and, while he sorts out the future of smart meters, demand that the power industry stop bullying, conning and patronising those people who used to be considered important: the customers.
Neil Mitchell broadcasts from 8.30am weekdays on 3AW. firstname.lastname@example.org