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From the CEO
September is a big month for change, heralding the beginning of spring and the warmer months. I know many of us are looking forward to the lifting of restrictions around Australia in the coming weeks and a return to some sense of normalcy, though the impact of the pandemic will continue to reverberate for a long time yet.
We were pleased to see an announcement from the Energy Charter this week that Australians impacted by COVID-19 (especially renters, JobSeekers, young people and those from culturally and linguistically diverse communities) will receive vital help to better manage their energy bills and access support programs. We would once again urge anyone who is having difficulty in paying their bills to reach out to their retailer and ask for help. Our Consumer Resource page can show you how.
Foresighting Forum 2021
We brought our Foresighting Forum 2021 webinar series to a close this month with a hugely-stimulating discussion about system design and the future of our energy system. I was so pleased to see the engagement, conversation and exchange of ideas taking place between our attendees in the chat and Q&A — something that is a critical part of the forum we have built over the years but which can be hard to replicate in a wholly-online setting. A shared vision is integral to a successful transition, and it is imperative that we have the right people coming together to build it. This discussion, which felt like it could have continued for days, leads us quite nicely into Foresighting Forum 2022, which will take place in February (we’ll announce more details soon). You can read my full thoughts on the webinar here, including our panellists’ responses to your questions and comments.
Post 2025 and Policy Progress
The Energy Security Board Post 2025 Market Design Final Advice has been sent to Ministers and a decision about next steps will be made shortly after the National Cabinet meeting in early October. For those of use who focus particularly on consumer assets by way of distributed energy resources, it is worth reading the “Part C” report, which has more detail.
I went into detail on our position on the ESB’s package of measures across the four workstreams and recommendations in last month’s newsletter. As a member of the Queensland Ministerial Energy Council we recently participated in a discussion regarding the proposals and though we see many positives in the paper, ultimately we want (as a priority) a dedicated effort to ensure that all benefits achievable via energy efficiency and demand flexibility are maximised and accounted for prior to falling back upon investing in new generation. We elaborate further on the importance of ensuring unnecessary or duplicative investment does not result in financial burden on future generations of consumers in a #bECAuse Blog here; using our Australia’s Energy Transition report to show how coordination could provide key opportunities to reduce additional costs to consumers.
Our Australia’s Energy Transition report collects and collates energy policies from across Australian jurisdictions, and as a nod to the incredible pace of change in the energy space, we have already seen new important ones announced this month. The New South Wales (NSW) Minister for Energy and the Environment, Matt Kean MP, has announced an ambitious emissions reduction target of 50% by 2030. Allied to this, NSW announced a new Peak Demand Reduction Scheme, which will reward consumers for time-shifting their energy use out of peak periods and encourage adoption of smart appliances that mean such practices can happen with minimal or no disruption to consumers. We support this new scheme, which encourages consumers to use energy when it is abundant, and we hope to see more like it in the future. Consumers that are directly involved can financially benefit but it begins to realise the potential for demand flexibility that at scale is likely to contribute towards cheaper energy bills for all households and small businesses.
Solar and Social Licence
We were also pleased this month to see the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO)’s new market notification approach to rooftop solar. This new protocol anticipates suboptimal operational conditions for the grid on a given day, seeks a market-based response, and communicates actions needed to maintain system security – among these, the potential curtailment of rooftop solar. We really appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with AEMO in addressing these challenges in building social licence with the community for the changes needed to fully integrate consumer-owned resources within our energy system. We must keep front of mind that consumers are investing in these technologies at a greater level than ever before because of the benefits to them and for a variety of personal reasons – financial, environmental, and social – and not primarily as a tool for managing the grid.
On this, we also made a submission to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) on their review of the Distributed Energy Resources (DER) Integration Expenditure guidance note. We see it as an important step in promoting transparency in distribution network investment. We have made two recommendations around consumer demand management and decision making in our submission.
Putting Consumers First
There were some significant developments on the electricity and gas network businesses front with the release of the draft Better Resets Handbook – Towards consumer-centric network proposals from the AER which will see a greater emphasis placed on these businesses having genuine consumer engagement in their future proposals as well as making the long-term interests of consumers a priority in how the AER will assess them. This is a big win for consumer advocates who have been working to see these improvements realised for many years, especially given the evolving relationship between people and their essential service providers (whether energy or water) and the way decisions about how best to provide services are shifting to more active engagement at both an individual and community level. We have also been working closely with Energy Networks Australia (ENA) on the Consumer Engagement Award. Congratulations to Australian Gas Networks (SA), Ergon Energy (QLD), Horizon Power (WA) and Powerlink (QLD) who were announced as our shortlisted finalists earlier this month. We continue to be encouraged by the dedication from networks to put consumers first in their business processes and look forward to choosing a winner next month.
The Australian Building Codes Board recently released its draft energy efficiency rules for the 2022 National Construction Code. The draft rules include an increase in minimum standards for newly built homes and encourages the adoption of more efficient appliances and the installation of rooftop solar systems. Household Energy Efficiency Standards are something we feel very strongly about and we have been advocating for improvements in this space for many years. New modelling from Renew – supported by our grants program – shows the positive impact on household finances. It finds that if these tighter standards were adopted nationally, consumers would be financially better off, would be able to pay their mortgages off quicker and would emit less carbon. We look forward to further developing impact in this space.
In further exciting Grants Program news, our renewal of the program will be launched next month. Future applicants can expect a more streamlined, transparent, and supportive system aimed at helping them succeed in supporting the long-term interests of residential and small business consumers.
It is important that we celebrate the success of organisations that we have supported through the Grants Program. We had news recently of a grants-funded success story in Voices for Power, a Sydney Alliance program based in Western Sydney. They have gone from strength to strength and are now being supported by many energy companies to run Train the Trainer programs to assist CALD consumers. In a shout out for a current project, a research scheme we are funding from the Queensland Farmers’ Federation and the University of Queensland, is currently seeking expressions of interest from farmers willing to take part in a study to assist them in tariff decision making and support greater inclusion of farmers’ needs in the design of more flexible tariffs. Interested parties can apply here.
We are changing our location. Energy Consumers Australia’s Headquarters going forward will be at Level 20, 570 George Street – though we won’t be officially moving in until early December (Covid-pending). All postal mail should be sent to our new PO Box A989 Sydney South NSW 1235 from now onwards. We also now have an expanded team who are based in Newcastle, Canberra and Melbourne as well as our Sydney office. I am looking forward to the time when we can actually connect with each other again, and our stakeholders, in the same place, not just on-line.
Speaking of expanded teams, we welcomed Anthony Seipolt to our ranks this month as a part-time Technical Advisor. Already, he has created massive impact by conducting a series of lunch and learns for staff, helping to break down some of the complex workings of the energy system in a fun and engaging way. I also want to welcome my new Executive Assistant, Amy Hill, who many of you will get to know, and thank Liadhan McCormack who has been in this role since March 2020, and is now stepping down. She has been a significant part of my success as CEO in that time.
We broke with tradition and invited all staff to our September Board Meeting to encourage greater visibility between the results and the people behind them, many of them new faces. The result was a deeper discussion led by the Board about the work underway and how coherent it is while remaining consistent with our Strategic Plan.
I am busy preparing to take the next two weeks off as annual leave. Though it is difficult to justify when planning a trip is out of the question, resting and resetting is more important than ever for both mental and physical wellbeing. For that reason we are doing a shutdown of the office from the 1st to the 5th of October, allowing for everyone to have one additional day off either side of the NSW public holiday. I hope all of you can also find ways to take some time for yourself over the coming few weeks.
All the best,
Chief Executive Officer
Foresighting Forum 2021 System Design Webinar: Your Questions Answered
The final webinar in our Foresighting Forum 2021 was a highly stimulating discussion. Here are our takeaways and your questions… answered!
The bECAuse Blog: Who foots the bill for an uncoordinated energy transition?
A clear and coordinated approach will be crucial in maintaining consumer confidence and support in energy markets, says Marie Harrowell.
Welcome Anthony Seipolt. Our new part-time technical adviser
Industry veteran Anthony Seipolt is joining our team as a consultant in a technical advisor role.
Consumer Engagement Awards finalists announced for 2021
The shortlist for the joint award between Energy Networks Australia and Energy Consumers Australia has been announced.
The bECAuse Blog: Australia needs more energy efficient homes. Here’s a start…
We are strongly in favour of these proposed changes to energy efficiency rules around minimum standards for newly built homes, Kerry Connors writes.
Submission to the AER on Assessing Distributed Energy Resources Integration Expenditure
It is imperative that there is transparency in distribution network investment with clear input assumptions for integrating DER.
Submission to the Department of Treasury on Consumer Data Right rules amendments
Our September 2021 submission on the Treasury’s draft Consumer Data Right rules and regulations published on 17 August 2021.