From the Interim CEO
My name is Jacqueline Crawshaw and it is a privilege to write my first newsletter message to you as Interim CEO for Energy Consumers Australia. I’ve been with ECA for almost five years and have stepped into this role from my position as Director Policy, Energy Services and Markets. The Board are in the process of recruiting a permanent CEO and we will keep you informed about the outcome.
When I accepted the role, I did so with a mixture of excitement and a deep sense of responsibility. We are working on one of the most important and complex issues of our time during a transformation that will have major implications for households and small businesses. With this comes huge opportunities to create a better energy system that serves the values, wants, and needs of consumers. And to be working collaboratively to shape these outcomes is a privilege for everyone at ECA.
The significance of the challenge was driven home to me again over the past month when we released our latest Energy Consumer Sentiment Survey (ECSS) and our SME Retail Tariff Tracker, both of which showed the increasingly difficult situation that consumers are facing as energy prices rise.
Our ECSS found that concerns about energy affordability are front of mind for most Australians, with 52% of households more concerned about paying their electricity bills than they were a year ago. And that research was undertaken before some retailers announced that they will be increasing their market offers by as much as 55% from 1 July, significantly above what the regulators approved for standing offers. This is clearly a bad outcome for consumers and will cause increased financial stress for many households and small businesses. Similarly, our SME Retail Tariff Tracker found that electricity bills have risen by 18% and gas bills by 22% for small businesses across the country.
Consumer confidence that the energy industry is working in their long-term interests also remains low. The ECSS found that only one in three households and fewer than one in two small businesses are confident in the energy market. We also asked respondents whether they believe they had received clear communications from groups such as Government, retailers, and the media, about how the transition would impact them. Only one in five households believe they have. We can and must do better. Clear and accessible information, provided by trusted messengers, at the right time, and in the right way, will help empower Australians and enable them to better manage their energy costs and take control of their energy use. In the research we found a clear pattern that those consumers who felt best informed, also felt most confident about the energy transition.
Undoubtedly, there will be difficult months ahead for many households and small businesses. The Federal Government’s Bill Relief measures go some way to easing the pressure on eligible households. But this will not be enough for many families and groups experiencing disadvantage. We know there are simple and affordable things that Australians can do to reduce their energy use and bring their bills down without having to sacrifice comfort. If you haven’t already, visit our Consumer Advice Hub which includes information for households and small businesses about how to reduce energy bills. We encourage you to share these resources with your networks, customers, and constituents.
I look forward to working together to navigate the difficult times ahead and ensure that consumers are placed at the heart of all solutions. It is only then that we can deliver clean, affordable, and reliable energy for all Australians.
Interim Chief Executive Officer
Energy Consumer Sentiment Survey
Rocketing Consumer Concerns
The latest results of our June 2023 Energy Consumer Sentiment Survey, the most comprehensive ongoing research on the attitudes of residential and small business energy consumers in Australia, are now out. The survey shows that Australians are increasingly worried about being able to afford the rising cost of energy and that only 35% of households feel confident the energy market is working in their long-term interests.
And it’s a similar story for small businesses. 59% of small business owners are more concerned about paying their electricity bills than they were a year ago.
The ECSS is filled with rich insights on what consumers think and feel about our energy system. Using the data, we investigated what was driving a drop in consumer confidence and what can be done about it. Significantly, we found that consumers who feel less informed about the transition also feel less positive about its outcome as well.
Many small businesses are struggling under the weight of increasing energy bills. However, a large proportion of them lack the knowledge, expertise or time it takes to research or put into practice the actions needed to manage energy usage and costs and need better support.
SME Retail Tariff Tracker
Our SME Tariff Tracker is the only ongoing research that tracks electricity and gas bills for small businesses in Australia. This year’s results are staggering. Between April 2022 to April 2023, energy bills surged for small business in every jurisdiction.
Nationally, electricity bills rose by 18% and gas bills increased by a huge 22%. We’ve created factsheets for every state and territory so you can see the key findings for your area. For the first time, we’ve also obtained bills from a range of small businesses and developed case studies to see what this means in practice.
We’ve also done further analysis of the results to understand how energy prices have fared for small businesses one year on from the energy crisis. The results show that while bills are still high compared to a year ago, in the past six months we have seen a slight improvement in retail market outcomes for small businesses.
From the Grants Team
Case Study: Voices for Power
To achieve an equitable energy transition, we need to make sure that no one is left behind. That’s what makes the Voices for Power project run by Sydney Community Forum so vital. The initiative is empowering CALD communities in Sydney’s west to take control of their energy use, drive down bills and embrace renewable energy technology. This project is funded through ECA’s Grants Program.
At a time of rising energy prices, it’s more important than ever to ensure that decisions about market design minimise energy costs. We therefore support Transmission Access Reform to ensure that the market receives appropriate signals about the need for new investment, and consumers won’t be asked to pay for more generation, networks or storage than is needed.
We also welcomed the opportunity to provide a submission the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) on the proposal to increase reliability settings via a variety of price mechanisms and comment on the review into Consumer Energy Resources Technical Standards.
Episode Five is a discussion between recently departed CEO, Lynne Gallagher, and Interim CEO, Jacqueline Crawshaw, on where we’ve come from and what the future of the energy system looks like for consumers.
Episode Six is a deep dive into the future of gas policy in Australia. Brian Spak discusses with Tony Wood the Grattan Institute’s latest report, Getting Off Gas, and what this means for the 5 million homes in Australia still connected to gas.
Consumer Engagement Awards
In conjunction with Energy Networks Australia, we’re proud to run the 2023 Energy Network Consumer Engagement Award. This award recognises an Australian energy network business that is demonstrating outstanding leadership in consumer engagement. Does this sound like you?
Welcome to ECA!
We’re thrilled to welcome Liz, Kat, and Ashley to the ECA family!
Liz Stephens joins us as our Director of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement. Kat George comes to a newly created role, Associate Director of Research. And Ashley Bradshaw is rejoining ECA as our Senior Energy Analyst.
May Board 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.