A GOVERNMENT discussion paper outlines plans to offer “smart” electricity meters across the state — but they could cost up to $500 per household.
Such meters have been rolled out in other states, but South Australia has delayed such a program because of an estimated state-wide cost of $1 billion.
The Energy Department has not yet decided who will pay for the meters, but experts say consumers will carry the cost because electricity assets had been privatised.
“Of course, the customer always pays,’’ said Uniting Communities electricity expert Mark Henley.
The State Government’s draft plan to offer smart meters to householders on a voluntary basis has been released for public comment. While it does not clearly state who will cover the cost of the meters, it provides an opt-out for customers who do not wish to pay.
It also outlines options to offset the “cost” to consumers.
Mr Henley said a compulsory rollout in Victoria cost $1000 for each meter, but falling costs meant experts now estimated the price to be between $300 and $400.
“The minimum cost would be about $250, but the other issue is retiring the old meters, and they are owned by SA Power Networks (formerly ETSA), and they would want to be paid out for the value of current meters which SAPN owns … up to another $250, depending on age of meter and SAPN valuation of existing meter cost.”
Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis said about 30,000 new or replacement electricity meters were installed each year.
Under the Government’s proposal, all new meters would be “smart-ready” unless the customer opted out.
A “smart-ready” meter is a step up from current technology and can be upgraded at a later time to operate as a “smart” meter by installing an electronic chip, similar to a SIM card in a mobile phone.
This enables the householder to take advantage of new products and services as they become available, such as monthly billing, online information and real-time data.
Mr Koutsantonis said the Government estimated a “smart-ready” meter would cost between $40 and $60 more than a regular meter.
“We want to give South Australians a choice, so under this proposal households can opt out and have a regular meter installed or have a smart-ready meter, yet choose not to take up the smart meter products and services,” he said.
“What we want to do is create a market for smart meters, which have the potential to save South Australians up to $200 a year on electricity bills when they select innovative products and services.”
South Australian Council of Social Service director Ross Womersley said there was no guarantee the cost of installation to householders would be matched by savings.
“SACOSS accepts that advanced metering offers a range of benefits, but is disappointed that the discussion paper does not provide any quantitative information in this regard,’’ he said.
“SACOSS is concerned that the costs of implementation have the potential to overwhelm the value of these benefits for the consumers of most interest to SACOSS.
“Asserting that a policy is ‘cost effective’ without demonstrating it to be so is not an approach that SACOSS prefers.’’
An Energy Department spokesman said the proposal “provides that all new and replacement meters for residential and small business customers will be smart-ready meters, unless a residential or small business … customer elects not to receive one’’.
Mr Womersley said if smart meter installation followed that of meters which had to be used for solar PV conversions, there would be a considerable cost to the consumer.
“SA Power Networks has been the monopoly provider of some 150,000 of these meters over recent years but SACOSS and others have observed that the price of meter replacement did not seem to reflect expected economies of scale and has only recently fallen to $314.60 from $440 for the majority of these installations,’’ he said.
“It is unclear if these meters really are ‘owned’ by customers despite having seemingly paid for them.”
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