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Commentary

Newsletter: July 2023

From the Interim CEO

The end of July marks the first month that most Australians have had to endure the latest energy price hikes – in some cases, facing increases up to 55%. The stories we’re hearing from consumers facing hardship are pretty heartbreaking.  

One person we spoke to, a man with two young children living North of Melbourne, said he thought his family would have to move in with his mum or friends and ‘hibernate’ for the winter to avoid running up bills. We’re also hearing that many consumers in financial difficulties are needing to take out credit cards or use Buy Now Pay Later finance to pay their energy bills. And that many previously ‘comfortable’ families are reaching out for help and joining energy hardship programs. Indeed, the latest AER data shows a 19% increase in residential electricity customers participating in hardship programs.  

To help manage rising energy costs, consumers have told us that they want to see support such as rebates and payment plans – and they also want to receive useful information on how they can better manage their bills. 

Given just how many energy education and literacy campaigns are out there, this may come as a surprise. However, we have found that the problem is not a lack of information to support energy consumers, but rather a tangled web of information so daunting and complicated that consumers switch off and give up. It’s information overwhelm. 

If you’ve ever tried to search for information on how to reduce your energy bills, you’ll probably be familiar with this experience. Millions of search hits from a multitude of organisations, some with potentially conflicting interests. Seemingly endless recommendations and information that is out of date, often written in what may as well be another language.  

There is a need for clear and concise communications that empower consumers to navigate current challenges, and understand what they need to do to play their part in the energy transition. That’s why we’re calling for consumers to receive the right information, at the right time, from the right sources. You can read more about what we think a successful energy communication campaign looks like here.  

One way we’ve been trying to put this into practice here at ECA is through our Consumer Advice Hub. The Hub provides clear and practical advice to consumers wanting to take control and manage their energy use. And it’s getting cut-through; we’ve had tens of thousands of visitors. We’ve recently added new resources to the Hub for households struggling to pay their energy bills.  

We’re committed to sharing our insights about what consumers tell us works for them with governments and industry. If this is an area where your organisation would like to do more, please reach out and we’d love to work together on this issue.  

Jacqueline Crawshaw
Interim Chief Executive Officer


Consumer Advice Hub

With the cost of living and energy prices soaring, millions of Australians are now struggling to pay their gas and electricity bills. According to our latest ECSS, over half of all households are more concerned about paying their electricity bill than they were a year ago.

That’s why we’ve created a new resource to provide practical support to people finding it difficult to pay their bill. If you work with, represent, or support people experiencing energy hardship, or you yourself are facing difficulties, this is essential reading.

This resource is part of our Consumer Advice Hub which is packed with resources to support households and small businesses take control of their energy and lower their bills.  We encourage you to use these resources and refer others on to them.


From the Grants Team

Supporting Energy Advocacy and Research

Congratulations to the three latest organisations to receive funding through our Grants Program!  

Sydney Community Forum was awarded funding to extend its Voices for Power project that empowers migrant communities in Western Sydney to have the knowledge, skills, and confidence to participate and navigate the energy transition. You can read more about this project in this news story write up.  

The Victorian Council of Social Services received funding to explore systemic changes within Victoria that could better integrate energy and health policies. And the Centre for New Energy Technologies Ltd (C4NET) will develop the foundations and fit-for-purpose modelling frameworks that will inform post-2030 electricity system planning.

New Grants Round Open

Our next round of Grant Funding is now open. If you have a research or advocacy project that develops energy policies to benefits households or small businesses in Australia, we want to hear from you. If you have any questions about the program, or whether a potential project might qualify for a grant, we’re more than happy to speak with you. Reach out via: grants@energyconsumersaustralia.com.au. Applications close 31 August.  

To assist you in your application, we’ve also created Grant Priority Issues documents. These will help you understand the areas of research and advocacy where we would particularly like to make a difference. We are especially interested in projects related to: the gas transition in homes and small businesses, improving the energy performance of all Australian homes, and removing barriers in the energy market for all Australians.  


Our Workplan

We’re pleased to share with you our first ever published Annual Workplan for FY23-24. The workplan details our strategic policy priorities and key initiatives for the next 12-18 months.  

A key reason for making the workplan public is to invite collaboration on our work. We hope to encourage decision-makers, advocates, and industry to work with us on those issues and projects where we have common interests and goals, including through our commissioned research and Grants Program. If you identify potential areas for collaboration, please get in touch.  


bECAuse Blogs

Are we reaching the peak in residential gas numbers?

There’s a lot of talk about the need for houses to get off gas. But when might this occur? The latest data suggests that declining residential gas customer numbers could happen sooner than expected. If this is the case, we need policymakers to start planning for an uncertain future now. 

Young vs old: attitudes to the energy transition

Our Energy Consumer Sentiment Survey is full of rich data. We’ve done a deep dive into the latest stats to find out how generational differences contribute to varying views on the energy transition. And significantly, what this means as we plan and deliver the energy system of the future.  

Reimagining energy information campaigns

Energy information and education campaigns are often touted as the solution to empower consumers. And yet, consumers are often overwhelmed and unsure of who to trust, or where to turn to for information to help them navigate the energy transition.  

What if the problem isn’t a lack of information but an overload of complex and contradictory information?


Podcast

Don’t miss the latest episode of our podcast, Watts Next?, with one of Australia’s leading energy efficiency gurus – Alan Pears. Alan shares over forty years of experience with us as he discusses with ECA’s Caroline Valente how we can improve the energy efficiency of our homes. 


Submissions

Energy is an essential service for running a small business and also a major cost. As costs increase, the control small businesses have over their energy bills is decreasing but there are steps small businesses can take to improve this. That’s why we put forward a submission to Treasury on the Small Business Energy Incentive with recommendations to help small and medium businesses electrify and save on their energy bills. 

We’ve also put forward a submission to Energy Queensland on the Queensland Electricity Connection Manual Consultation in relation to the consumer experience for electric vehicle charging.


From the Board

Reference Committee

The Board is pleased to appoint the 2023-25 Reference Committee. The Reference Committee play a vital role in providing the Board with advice on current and emerging consumer energy issues across the national energy market. The Board would also like to thank the outgoing Committee members, Dr Fiona Simon, Dr Georgina Davis, Gabrielle Sycamore, James Colbert, Justine Jarvinen and Ross Womersley for their service and hard work over the past two years.  

June Communique

The Board met in Sydney in May. This board meeting was significant as it was Lynne Gallagher’s final Board meeting. The Board would like to extend heartfelt thanks to Lynne for her input and leadership at ECA.


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