The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) has made a final rule to allow metering coordinators to deactivate the communications on already-installed smart meters.
The AEMC’s Competition in Metering Rule, which started in December 2017, stipulates that all new and replacement meters must be an advanced ‘type 4’ meter unless a customer makes a request not to have a type 4 meter at the time a new meter is installed or if there isn’t a telecommunications network in the area to support a type 4 meter. Type 4 meters host wireless communications that emit pulsed radiofrequency radiation in the microwave range 24/7. In instances of customer refusal, an advanced non-communicating meter, known as a type 4A meter, is provided. If instead a customer has an existing ‘working’ meter, and doesn’t require a new meter, opt-out provisions are available.
However, there was no provision in the rule for the meter’s communications to be deactivated if a customer moves into a house or business premise that already has a type 4 meter installed.
The final rule allows metering coordinators, at their discretion, to deactivate the remote communications in response to customer objection. Deactivation may be achieved by a variety of means (for example, cease polling/collection, remote deactivation, or physical removal of the meter’s communication facilities). Metering coordinators may only accept a request for deactivation if they have evidence that the retailer has advised the customer about upfront charges associated with a type 4A meter and similarities and differences between a type 4 and a type 4A meter.
The Australian Energy Council (AEC), which represents 23 major electricity businesses, requested the rule change. The AEC anticipated that their proposal would “reduce the number of complaints customers make to retailers and jurisdictional ombudsmen, therefore reducing administrative costs whilst simultaneously improving customer’s experience”.
In response, the AEMC concurred that there was a need for a process to deactivate remote communications at the lowest cost. This was in recognition of the fact that “a small cohort of customers holds strong views regarding the use of advanced meter communication at their premises, as stated in AGL and EnergyAustralia’s submissions”.
The AEMC may only make a rule if it is satisfied that the rule will, or is likely to, contribute to the achievement of the national electricity objective (NEO). Although factors to be considered in the NEO include safety and security of supply of electricity, the AEMC’s decision was solely on the basis that allowing deactivation will lead to cost reductions in respect of customers insistent on having a non-communicating meter. The AEC had pointed out that the costs associated with deactivation are three to five times lower than replacing the meter entirely (as well as not requiring an interruption to the customer’s supply of electricity). Prior to this final rule, a meter swap was the only means by which customers moving into premises with an existing communicating smart meter might obtain a type 4A meter.
The final rule commences on 1 July 2019 in the jurisdictions which have adopted the National Electricity Rules (NER). These jurisdictions are NSW, QLD, SA, Tas and the ACT.
The Northern Territory has only adopted certain parts of the NER which do not include parts related to the final rule. The Competition in Metering Rule does not currently apply in Victoria as a result of Victorian Ministerial Order. Western Australia continues to be subject to a State-based regulatory framework.
Customers who have a type 4A meter must continue to shop around retailers, if they want to obtain the best deal and avoid being gouged for manual meter reading fees. Although the Australian Energy Regulator sets the maximum fee for manually reading meters, there is NO obligation on retailers to charge this fee.
SSMA commends the AEC for proposing this rule and the AEMC for overseeing its formulation. This final rule represents a step in the right direction. However, when one takes into account safety and security of supply issues, SSMA considers that the NEO would be better served by eliminating wireless transmissions from ALL meters.
For previous posts on this issue, see: