This bill includes the power to make Orders in Council to provide for setting fees to manually read meters, and the recovery of these fees by retailers. These charges are yet to be set, with the AER (Australian Energy Regulator) having final approval. This is expected to occur in November, with manual reading fees due to commence in March 2015.
Not surprisingly, members from both sides of the House wholeheartedly support the continued rollout of smart meters. After all, it was Labor who commenced the rollout, and the Coalition who decided it made sense to continue with the rollout. The bill also had the support of the Greens, in the Legislative Council’s second reading on the 6th May. As such, debate, in the Legislative Assembly’s second reading of the bill on the 25th June, remained shallow, with both sides appearing to be more intent on scoring political kicks regarding the acknowledged bungled rollout, rather than focusing on the issues at stake.
Members of Parliament from both sides happily concurred that it was a mistake to have made the rollout compulsory. Hence the new measures to allow for manual reads. At odds with this seeming benevolence towards the 60,000 or so households which remain without smart meters, was the complete absence of debate regarding the many households who have had unwanted smart meters foisted upon them. Why should they be denied a non-wireless meter? The Member for Ballarat East, Mr Howard, stated that some 89 individual case studies had been brought to his attention, where people had had smart meters forcibly connected in their absence, despite saying that they did not want them.
Health concerns, although mentioned by a number of Members, remain patently misunderstood and trivialised. The Shadow Minister for Energy and Resources, Ms D’Ambrosio, claimed that “there have been repeated independent health reports produced that show no known link between AMI technology and adverse health impacts”. This is news to Stop Smart Meters Australia; the only study commissioned to-date by the government touching on this issue, the 2011 AMI Meter Electromagnetic Field Survey, merely examined a small sample of meters to ensure that emissions met the ARPANSA radiofrequency standard. People, animals and effects on the environment were left out of the equation. Given this standard only seeks to protect Australians from gross heating effects, it is hardly surprising that microwave emissions fell well within its limits.
Mr Kotsiras also managed to do a swift retreat from his commitment, made on 3AW on the 29th January, whilst he was the Minister for Energy and Resources, to get “a third party – not government – to work out whether there are any health risks associated with smart meters”. Instead, we find he asked for a “technical study to expand the earlier work on electromagnetic fields”. Huuh? Exactly how is undertaking a ‘larger sample size’ of meters going to be of assistance in establishing health risks? It seems Victorians’ pleas to study people have again fallen on deaf ears.
Members on both sides of the House appear to believe that ‘flexible’ pricing is what is about to float the boat for consumers. Never mind that all Victorian electricity consumers are being forced to pay dearly for this questionable benefit. All Victorians commenced paying for the botched rollout from the beginning of 2010, regardless of whether or not they had a smart meter. 2.3 billion dollars is the figure that Members continued to quote in their speeches as being the cost of the rollout, up by 1.5 billion dollars over the original costing. Considering Ms D’Ambrosio’s claim that the government is “finding it extremely difficult to get Victorians to take up flexible pricing”, it seems that it is Victorians again, who are the losers.
Victoria’s smart meter rollout, far from making life better for consumers, has resulted in, as Mr Carbines, State Member for Ivanhoe, noted “a significant increase in the number of complaints by consumers to the Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria (EWOV)”. It seems, with the added penalty of meter reading fees looming near, depending on the whims of the AER, Victorians refusing smart meters on the basis of health, safety and cost issues, will continue to be fodder in the power industry’s pursuit of profits.
To view a copy of the SSMA media release that was sent out to media organisations on 3rd July click: SSMA New Meter Reading Fee Media Release
Victorian Parliamentary Debates, Legislative Assembly, 25 June, Available: http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/daily-hansard/Assembly_2014/Assembly_Daily_Extract_Wednesday_25_June_2014_from_Book_9.pdf
Energy Legislation Amendment (Customer Metering Protections and Other Matters) Bill 2014, Available: http://www.legislation.vic.gov.au/domino/Web_Notes/LDMS/PubPDocs.nsf/ee665e366dcb6cb0ca256da400837f6b/8179e32c8045389fca257cad007d1193!OpenDocument