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From the CEO
It is hard to believe another month has come and gone already. Is it just me or is time passing by quicker this year than ever before? Our thoughts are with people facing the effects of restrictions and lockdown measures across the country. Our team – in Sydney and Canberra – remains focused on COVID-safe practices.
We have had a few new additions and changes to our team this month. We continue to send huge congratulations to Chris Alexander, our Director Advocacy and Communications, and his wife Clare on the arrival of their precious baby girl in early July. Many of you know and work closely with Chris, we hope he is enjoying the time with his new family and we look forward to having him back with us from August 10. Allan Forbes also joined us last week to lead our Grants Program Review, which was a commitment we made in response to the KPMG Review of Energy Consumers Australia. If you want to know more about the KPMG Review and our Review Implementation Plan, more information is available here. We have also just closed applications for the position of Director, Strategy and Corporate. We received a high calibre of candidates and we look forward to welcoming another new member to our team.
These are challenging times, with businesses still having lost revenue, unemployment touching as many as one in four families and 3.3 million Australians being supported by the JobKeeper program. This means that a focus on consumers’ needs are more essential than ever and must go above and beyond ticking boxes. We continue to encourage retailers to deliver better, clearer and more proactive communications to help people take control of their energy usage and their bills.The results from our recent Energy Consumer Sentiment Survey showed that most people couldn’t remember being contacted by their energy provider, and only about half of the people feel the information they receive from their retailer is useful. We believe improving communication with the community is critical to building trust in the sector.
We are pleased to see the evolution of the Statement of Expectations from the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) which extends the important consumer protections which are in place in response to the pandemic. This includes an expectation that retailers will prioritise clear, up-to-date communications with consumers on issues such as payment plans or hardship arrangements, prohibitions on disconnections and deferral of debt collection actions.
Through The Energy Charter, energy businesses are getting the message out that help is available, including in community languages. Collaboration and partnerships continue to be critical to discover new ways of improving consumer outcomes.
The AER announced the introduction of its Customer Service Incentive Scheme this month. It came about through the New Regulation (NewReg) initiative (a partnership between the AER, Energy Networks Australia (ENA) and Energy Consumers Australia) and is an outcome of the trial by Ausnet Services of a new model of consumer engagement. Through this scheme electricity distributors are encouraged to engage with their customers to inform the services they provide.
There is an enormous amount of market reviews, policy and regulatory work underway. A major priority for Energy Consumers Australia is how consumers can be supported to manage their use or generation of energy and be rewarded for changing their behaviour. Technology is increasingly enabling consumers to be in control of their energy use, as well as generating and storing energy from their home or business to their benefit and the benefit of the system overall.
We made submissions to the South Australian Government’s Consultation on Regulatory Changes for Smart Homes, the Energy Security Board’s consultation on the Governance of distributed energy resources technical standards and the Australian Energy Market Commission’s rule change Technical standards for distributed energy resources.
We are also engaging with stakeholders on our proposed electric vehicle charging tariff, which we developed in the context of the AER’s revenue determination process for the Victorian electricity distributors. Our research demonstrates there is the potential for attractive off-peak charging rates – of 10 cents per kilowatt hour (retail) – to incentivise behaviour, which is easily automated.
This month our Board of Directors met with their Reference Committee, and were pleased to welcome Carmel Franklin, Chair of Financial Counselling Australia, from the ACT. The Reference Committee discussed the challenges facing consumers, with businesses having lost revenue and families who have lost income, as well as higher bills for those working from home. While fewer consumers are seeking assistance with high bills because they are drawing on savings or government support, this could change as the economic recession continues. For those consumers that are deferring payment of some or all of their bills, there may be a problem in the future with managing accrued debt.
I was very pleased to be a panelist on the webinar ‘How energy consumers are dealing with COVID-19‘ in July, which identified the rising need for support for consumers to manage their bills, including energy. I was really grateful to Jemena, the webinar hosts, who made a donation on my behalf to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne.
Now that connecting virtually has become a the new normal, we are planning a number of events to engage with our stakeholders and industry experts over the coming year. We look forward to hosting some exciting new opportunities to build relationships and facilitate discussion and change. Stay tuned to the Key Dates section of our newsletter over the coming months for more.
If you are enjoying our newsletters each month, make sure to pass it on to your friends and colleagues who may also be interested in hearing from us. As always, if you have feedback, questions or comments, please connect with us via our social media (links below) or reach out through our Share Your Story page here.
Stay safe and well,
Chief Executive Officer (Interim)
Staff arrangements and new appointments
There have been some staff and committee changes within the ECA team recently which may change the way you interact with us in the short term. Read more here.
- Three exciting new grants approved by our Board of Directors.
- Energy costs improving but still the top cost of living concern in Covid-19 crisis
- SME Retail Tariff Tracker Final Report Media Release June 2020
Submission to the South Australian consultations on smarter homes
In our latest submission to the Government of South Australia Department for Energy and Mining on their consultations of smarter homes, we outline in detail the opportunities to allow consumers to be partners in designing the future energy system. Read our full submission here.
- Submission to AER Regulatory Treatment of Inflation Discussion Paper
- Energy Consumer Sentiment Survey Findings June 2020 + COVID Special Reports
- SME Retail Tariff Tracker Final Report: June 2020 + COVID Special Report
Webinar: A consumer perspective on interconnector and transmission investment
Yesterday, 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 webinar brought more than 70 stakeholders – consumer advocates as well as representatives from industry, regulators and government officials from a number of jurisdictions – together to hear the analysis of Project Marinus by TSBC and its partners. Presentations highlighted key consumer issues and questions, including how to weigh costs and benefits for consumers, how the interests of consumers should be incorporated into a final decision, and whether there are better alternatives.
The analysis also points to national lessons, asking whether the RIT-T is fit for purpose for these large capital investments, and highlighting the need to engage consumers in those decisions.
The webinar enabled a timely national discussion – skilfully chaired by Catherine O’Neill (Spencer & Co), the panel included Tasmanian voices, with Robert Mallett (TSBC) and Stephen Clark (TasNetworks), consumer representatives from other jurisdictions – Miyuru Ediriweera (Public Interest Advocacy Centre) and Andrew Nance (The Energy Project), as well as TSBC’s consultants, John Deveraux (Goanna Energy Consulting) and Carl Daley (SavvyPlus Consulting).
This project was funded through our Grants Program – the reports from the project can be downloaded here.
We will be publishing the presentations from the webinar and a recording of the discussion on our website shortly.
Energy Network Industry Awards applications close August 18
- Get your applications for the 2020 Energy Consumers Australia Energy Network Consumer Engagement Award in ASAP. The award, which we present in partnership with Energy Networks Australia, recognises an Australian energy network business that demonstrates outstanding leadership in consumer engagement. Further details can be seen here.