VICTORIAN households may get the option of letting electricity companies ration their power in exchange for cheaper bills or other incentives.
Energy experts say the state regulator has paved the way for a radical system using smart meters that also gives the potential for companies to temporarily disconnect customers when they hit a consumption cap.
Other households could end up signing contracts allowing appliances such as airconditioners to be cycled on and off during heatwaves to reduce strain on the power grid.
Consumer groups are deeply concerned an Essential Services Commission ruling released yesterday will allow retailers to punish those having trouble paying bills.
“We advise consumers to be wary of these products if offered by energy retailers and to be aware of the other ways to reduce consumption and deal with high bills – such as energy efficiency, payment plans and hardship programs,” the Consumer Action Law Centres Janine Rayner said.
But the ESC, which has authorised product trials with volunteers, says rationing for “the primary purpose of credit management” rather than other reasons is banned until at least 2014.
Despite publicly releasing its decision, the ESC had no one available to comment.
The ruling comes with the State Government soon to reveal the fate of the beleaguered smart meter project, which is expected to progress because too much money has already been sunk into it.
Ms Rayner said the ESC decision allowed distributors to limit power supply to help avoid blackouts.
It also paves the way for companies to use “supply capacity control” to temporarily interrupt supply once a household hits a certain limit, or to “load control” by turning appliances on and off without cutting all power.
“Supply capacity control could be used by retailers to offer capacity limited tariffs, again to ration power and possibly avoid disconnection,” its paper states.
An example of load control is to cycle an air conditioner on and off to reduce load on the network on a very hot summers day.
“The customer would be offered a saving on the bill for accepting such a load control and the cycling of the air conditioner would be designed so that the customers comfort would not be materially affected.”