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From the CEO
The month of August has seen us working on our strategic priorities in the short, medium and longer term. Our focus is on activities that will lead to lower prices and bills for consumers and that also enable consumers to be in control; whether that is when they use energy, generate electricity or in their efforts to be more energy efficient in their homes and businesses. We will be consulting with our stakeholders over the coming months in creating a draft Business Plan which will allow us to finalise our priorities for 2020-21. One of the key issues that we face as an advocacy organisation is that the demand for our engagement is well in excess of our resources.
We continue to be focussed on the needs of consumers who may be struggling to pay their energy bills as a consequence of the pandemic and the economic downturn. The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has reiterated the need for retailers to support their customers as COVID-19 continues, releasing their Statement of Expectations 2 in late July 2020. Since May 2020 the AER has published a weekly retail market dashboard, reporting on numbers of customers paying debt, and the amount of debt accumulating. The increase in the numbers of small business with debts owing to their retailer has increased significantly in the data collected by the AER, and this is also evident in a new report by the Essential Services Commission Victoria (ESCV) on supporting customers through the pandemic. Going beyond just a focus on the energy sector the Consumer Policy Research Centre continues to release monthly survey updates on the impact of COVID-19 on consumers. Their July Briefing Report says that “65% of Australians felt very or somewhat concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their on their financial wellbeing”.
In these extraordinary circumstances no consumers should be disconnected for non-payment of their bills, irrespective of whether people have communicated with their retailer, and there is no case for referring non-payment or debts to collection agencies. We also call on consumers who may not be having payment difficulties to pay their bills on time, as every bit helps in making sure retailers can manage the impact of the significant numbers of people having difficulty paying their bills, and needing our help.
A key near and longer-term priority for Energy Consumers Australia is the opportunity for consumers to be rewarded for flexibility in their energy use or generation. The Western Australian Government’s Energy Transformation Taskforce released its Distributed Energy Resources Roadmap earlier this year. This was followed by an issues paper on the key enabling architecture for greater participation by consumers in the wholesale market, which defines the changing roles and responsibilities of network operators as distinct from the market or system operator. The issues paper is available here, with submissions due on 25 September 2020.
A further enabler of greater participation by consumers in markets – whether that be wholesale, emergency reserves, FCAS or network support – is signalling the value of the load or generation being made available. Challenger retailer brands overseas are demonstrating that with attractive pricing, information and tools consumers are ready for change. Not all consumers will want or be able to take advantage of off-peak pricing. There are examples where consumers are able to manage this ”risk”. In the UK for example Octopus Energy offers Agile pricing and in the US, the Smart Electric Power Alliance has published a report by the Brattle Group on residential electric vehicle charging rates. As part of our submission to the Victorian electricity distribution networks revenue determinations, we developed a voluntary tariff that would charge consumers 10 cents per kilowatt hour off peak for charging their electric vehicle at home or at their business premise. We are engaging with stakeholders and doing some further work, to recalculate as a load control rate and to ensure the price impacts on other consumers are transparent, and do not cause impacts on vulnerable consumers. The technical report by Energeia is available here. You can reach out to Shelley Ashe, our Associate Director, Advocacy and Communications here to learn more.
The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) initiated its consultation process on a range of rule change proposals to better integrate distributed generation into energy markets in August. Information from the webinar of the stakeholder forum is available here. We have been pleased to support the work of Mark Byrne from the Total Environment Centre and Kellie Caught from the Australian Council of Social Services, including through the Distributed Energy Integration Program. Submissions on the issues paper that covers all three rule change proposals close on 10 September 2020.
We have also been engaged in the process for the planning of the transition of the energy system, being undertaken by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). AEMO released its final Integrated System Plan 2020 in late July, and the AER published its Guidelines for making the ISP Actionable in August. These are part of the new rules that govern transmission planning and are intended to support rigorous cost benefit analysis. The significant scale of the anticipated investment in new transmission capacity that is provided for in the ISP 2020, makes it critical that these investments are subject to robust scrutiny, to ensure least cost outcomes for consumers. AEMO has called for expressions of interest for membership of the 2022 ISP Consumer Panel. The Consumer Panel will engage in depth with AEMO throughout the ISP development process, including by providing detailed written assessments of the inputs, assumptions and scenarios report and the draft 2022 ISP.
This month we have launched a new Great Grants section on our website. While we publish the reports from all of our grants projects, Great Grants showcases exceptional examples of advocacy and research projects that have built new evidence or demonstrated influence or impact for energy consumers. These will be released one by one as a new ‘Grant of the Month’ feature in this newsletter starting from our September issue but you can view all of our current Great Grants here. Last week our Board of Directors heard from three projects included in our Great Grants which have proved influential with decision-makers and demonstrate the different dimensions of the Grants Program – supporting advocacy, research and building infrastructure to support advocates. Take a look under the Grants Section below to watch the videos and see the presentation slides.
In staff news David Havyatt retired this week as our Senior Economist as he moves to focus more on personal projects, including his PhD studies, and we wish him well. David will still be working with us on a consultancy basis and can be reached via his Energy Consumers Australia email until February 2021. We welcomed our colleague Chris Alexander back from parental leave this month. He is currently concentrating on leading our engagement with the Energy Security Board on the Post 2025 Market Design initiatives, together with Louise Benjamin and the latest addition to our team Alexandra (Alex) Bishop. Jacqueline Crawshaw will continue to be Acting Director, Advocacy and Communications and can be contacted via email.
I look forward to connecting with you all again next month, and if you are enjoying reading these newsletters – please do share with your friends and colleagues. The sign-up form can be found here. We are also available via our social channels (links below).
I hope you are staying safe and well.
All the best,
Chief Executive Officer (Interim)
None of the commentary in this newsletter is intended to convey a different view to the expectations set by the Australian Energy Regulator, for how consumers could be assisted who may be having difficulty paying their energy bills. We do have a concern, based on the evidence from the retailer data and other organisations, that consumers may not be contacting their retailer to get the help they need, and may not be aware of what help is available. It is vitally important that consumers do not go without the power they need in their homes and businesses.
A consumer perspective on interconnector and transmission investment: Webinar resources
On July 30 2020, in conjunction with the Tasmanian Small Business Council (TSBC), we convened a successful national webinar ‘A consumer perspective on interconnector and transmission investment’ to enable TSBC to share its research on the proposed Project Marinus interconnector.The project which was funded by our Grants program brought more than 70 stakeholders to hear the analysis.
Submission to the ACCC Energy Rules Framework Consultation Paper on Consumer Data Right for Energy
The Consumer Data Right (CDR) for Energy is an important reform that will help provide consumers with the information and tools they need to respond to opportunities in a rapidly changing energy marketplace. Our submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Energy Rules Framework Consultation Paper supports the economy-wide CDR as the means to access data.
- Submission to the AER on Evoenergy and Australian Gas Networks (SA) Gas access arrangement proposals 2021-26
- Submission to the ESB Governance of DER Technical Standards Consultation Paper
- Submission to the National Electricity Amendment (Technical Standards for Distributed Energy Resources) Rule 2020
- Submission to the AEMC deferral of network charges rule change
Energy Consumers Australia Great Grants
Since our inception, a key pillar of our organisation has been our grants program. We have funded a myriad of high quality and innovative research and advocacy initiatives which have made a real difference in the long term interests of energy consumers in the National Energy Market. This year, we have decided to showcase some of our successful grants recipients by building a Great Grants section on our website and featuring one Great Grant each month here in our newsletter. Our focus this week are the three grants which were presented to our Board of Directors in August, each one demonstrating the different dimensions of the Grants Program;
- Supporting advocacy
- Building infrastructure to support advocates.
- Exploring the nexus of energy use, ageing, and health and wellbeing among older Australians
- Tariff Assessment Tool – an expanded open source tool for network and retail tariffs
- ACOSS Equitable, Affordable, Inclusive Energy Transition Project
Grants applications closing September 10
- September has arrived which means the deadline to submit your application for a research or advocacy grant is fast approaching! Have a great idea or project that will benefit energy consumers? . Further details can be seen here.