A document received from a Stop Smart Meters Australia (SSMA) member as a result of a Freedom of Information request has revealed that KPMG, the accounting firm engaged by the Victorian Government in 2019 to identify how to increase smart meter benefits, merely provided ‘observations’ for the government to consider in regard to whether metering competition should be introduced.
So why has the Victorian Government persisted in refusing electricity customers access to the national competition in metering rule? This rule, which commenced in late 2017, although aimed at increasing smart meter penetration, brought consumer preference into the equation, even if that meant recognising the right to reject enabled communications.
The government claims that KPMG’s review, titled ‘AMI [Advanced Metering Infrastructure] Benefits Realisation Report’, found that ‘introducing contestability at this time is unlikely to unlock unrealised benefits to consumers and may diminish some of the benefits that have been realised’.
However, the heavily redacted document appears to merely raise issues, rather than provide the Victorian Government with a ready-made position.
The fact remains that Victorians are subjected to among the harshest smart meter policies in Australia. Elsewhere, customers have the right to refuse a meter with wireless communications. In other Australian jurisdictions, even if a smart meter has already been installed, customers are entitled to have their meter’s pulsed microwave transmissions disabled.
Long-suffering Victorians – even in instances where people have provided documentation from their doctor requesting this accommodation – have no such choices.
It is apparent that many of the smoke-and-mirror benefits originally promised to Victorians as a result of the mandatory rollout of smart meters never eventuated. Instead, it is Victorian power distributors who have gained the most advantage – while electricity customers continue to pay for the Victorian Labor Government’s ill-considered smart meter initiative.
This lamentable outcome was foreshadowed in both the Victorian Auditor-General’s 2009 audit of the rollout and in its subsequent 2015 audit. The scathing 2009 report revealed that ‘The cost-benefit study behind the AMI decision was flawed and failed to offer a comprehensive view of the economic case for the project’. The 2015 audit echoed these findings, stating that when the ‘government reviewed the program in 2011 it was clear there would be no overall benefit to consumers, but instead a likely cost of $319 million’.
So how have the supposed benefits to customers – that government was scrambling to try and identify after it committed to the rollout of smart meters in Victoria – panned out? A number of SSMA committee members well recall attending an information session, hosted by the department who held responsibility at the time for the rollout (Department of Primary Industries), back in December 2011. We were regaled with the mantra that customer interests would be placed front and centre. In-home displays, which were going to reveal the nitty-gritty of home electricity usage, were touted as one of the technological wonders that would empower Victorians.
It seems Victorians have shown a healthy disdain for this ‘benefit’. Page 77 of KPMG’s report reveals that a mere 11,000 in-home devices have been installed in Victoria. Moreover, the functionality itself (which all customers have been forced to subsidise) has been bypassed by newer technologies.
Likewise, including the avoided cost of accumulation meters (p. 28) as a benefit is a decided stretch. The ability to do remote reads, and ditch meter readers, is a major cost-saver for Victoria’s (largely) foreign-owned power distributors; however, it’s the electricity customers who end up paying through the nose for the technology (which goes far beyond just the meter itself as it also encompasses the networking and back-office technology required to support advanced metering infrastructure). KPMG state the obvious on page 41, saying that ‘AMI meters have a shorter asset life than analogue meters’. According to it, smart meters are depreciated over about seven years, although many of them last longer. Compare this to our old sturdy electromechanical meters that lasted for decades!
The decision to lock Victorian customers into mesh smart meter networks, rather than providing access to the 3G/4G networks being rolled out in much of the rest of Australia, is also regrettable. According to KPMG (p. 7), Victoria’s mesh AMI network is outdated technology.
Unlike 3G/4G meters, which utilise mobile phone communication networks, mesh networks rely on a multitude of nearby mesh network smart meters (bolstered by repeaters or relays in low-density areas) to ferry customer data from meter to meter, with access points providing the funnel for the communications to and from towers. The interconnectedness of mesh networking topology has provided electricity distributors with a convenient reason to object to the introduction of more choice-friendly meters. However, this doesn’t absolve the Victorian Government from responsibility for enacting policy measures that preclude the disablement of communications in smart meters; WA’s state-owned electricity provider, Western Power, allows customers to have the communications device removed from the meter at any time, despite also having installed a mesh network.
Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), which is the latest department responsible for electricity smart meter policy, claimed, in a response to SSMA dated 30 December 2020, that its refusal to publish KPMG’s report was because ‘Other options to increase benefits for consumers are still under government consideration, therefore the report will not be made publicly available’.
So what are these possible benefits that DELWP is envisaging it might pull out of a hat? Given the number of blanked-out pages in the document obtained by means of the Freedom of Information request, SSMA can only guess. However, what is obvious, is that the Victorian Government has already had a staggering fifteen years, since it decided in 2006 that ‘smart meters would be installed in all residential and small business premises’ (p. 20), to come up with benefits for electricity customers. Yet here we are, in 2021, and, according to KPMG (p. 15), ‘many of the originally anticipated benefits of AMI remain unrealised’.
What is even more obvious, is that ALL of the many cost-benefit studies over the years, have failed to factor in the crippling costs incurred by the cohort of Victorians affected by the pulsed wireless emissions from smart meters. People have lost their health, their livelihoods, the ability to sleep in their own bedrooms, as well as sometimes being entirely forced out of their own homes. SSMA has also heard of people spending tens of thousands of dollars shielding their homes, undergoing unnecessary medical investigations, or even, as a last resort, moving out of Victoria.
DELWP’s claim that KPMG undertook extensive stakeholder engagement, in its review of AMI contestability, is a joke. Clearly, if the exercise was to have had any validity whatsoever, feedback from the Victorians who have had their lives devastated in consequence of the rollout of smart meters, should have been canvassed. This did not occur.
And what about the views of internet safety experts and customers savvy enough to realise the significant security and privacy issues created by smart meters? Given the explosion in malicious cyber attacks that the world is witnessing, surely KPMG’s report should have highlighted the increased risk posed by wireless smart meter networks.
KPMG states, on page 44, that all consumers should benefit from AMI, irrespective of their choices and situations. Instead, all Victorian electricity customers have been financially penalised in consequence of the rollout of smart meters. The Victorian Government has also risen to new heights of callousness in its policy of heartlessly stonewalling and ignoring the plight of those amongst us living with disability as a result of exposure to pulsed microwave emissions from smart meters.
When will our Big Brother Victorian Government finally allow Victorians the same choices afforded to other Australians?
You can download and read the (22 MB) AMI Benefits Realisation Report here.