A normal meter (left) and smart meter.
VICTORIANS need to urgently educate themselves about the looming surge in electricity prices this year, or face bills so high many will struggle to pay them, the chief of an energy price comparison service says.
Power use surged yesterday, after temperatures in Melbourne hit 39.6 degrees at 6pm. Today the temperature is forecast to hit 35 degrees, after an overnight low of 24.
The spike in electricity use followed power prices in Victoria jumping on New Year’s Day, by an average 10 per cent.
Much of this increase was on the charge to consumers for simply being connected to the grid – meaning users will now pay more regardless of whether they cut their power use or not.
And, according to Ben Freund, chief executive of price comparison service company GoSwitch, another jump of about 10 per cent is likely to follow on July 1, when the carbon tax begins.
The new tax, combined with mandatory renewable energy targets and chronic under-investment by power companies in infrastructure, will cause prices to rise further across Australia. ”We are looking at the doubling of the cost of power in five years’ time,” Mr Freund said.
”At that point people will start getting into serious hardship.”
Victoria had the advantage of around 70 per cent of its homes being connected to natural gas, giving many consumers an alternative if power bills rose too steeply, Mr Freund said. ”Consumers will be blase about it for a while, and then they’ll get their bill for summer and be shocked,” he predicted.
”Then they’ll get their winter bill, and by that stage they will be paying a carbon tax and they will be really shocked.”
Also likely to have an impact on future electricity price rises will be the introduction of smart meters to every home in Victoria, which will measure energy consumption every 30 minutes, rather than every three months.
The new meters will allow for time-of-use tariffs to be charged, allowing energy retailers to charge more for using electricity at times when everyone wants to use their power, and less at low-demand times.
Energy Minister Michael O’Brien has guaranteed this new way of charging will not happen until next year, and that those who wish to stay on fixed charges will be able to do so.
But Victorian Greens MP Greg Barber warned that anyone who had considered the $2.3 billion smart meter rollout a ripoff so far needed to be aware of what was coming.
”You can’t put people on time-of-use pricing unless they’ve got instantaneous access to information about how much they’ll be paying for the power they are using,” he said.
To do so would be like ”a pub that shuts off happy hour at 7pm without telling you, then hands you a bill for 800 bucks at the end of the night”, he said.
A spokesman for Mr O’Brien said yesterday that the moratorium on time-of-use pricing would remain in place until next year.
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