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Commentary Main Feature

Empowering Consumers to Influence our Energy Future 

Few things are as important to our energy system as consumers having a voice in the room when decisions are being made about the future cost of energy. We want to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table – and that consumers are supported, and their voices amplified during these discussions. 

That’s why we’re changing the way we engage with networks as they make big decisions about the future of energy.  

We’re excited to unveil a new scheme, the Consumer Empowerment Funding Program (CEFP), that will expand consumer voices and skills, nurturing a new generation of consumer advocates.

If you’re a consumer advocate, energy expert, or network provider, we want you to take part. Here’s what you need to know, how the new scheme will work, and how you can be involved. 

What’s a reset process and why is it important?

Energy transmission and distribution network companies are monopolies. To avoid excess costs for consumers, the amount of revenue they are allowed to earn is determined by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER). Every five years, the AER determines the appropriate level of expenditure for each network. Because the amount changes – or “resets” every five years – this process is commonly known as a Reset.

Network resets are important for three reasons.  

  1. Network costs are collectively the largest portion of consumer electricity and gas bills. We all pay more for the infrastructure to bring energy into our homes and businesses than we do for the actual gas that is transported through pipelines or the electricity that is generated. There are over 30 gas and electricity network businesses regulated by the AER with combined assets of over $100 billion. We want to ensure that any decision made is in the best interests of consumers and reflects their wishes. This has never been more important as cost-of-living pressures rise.  
  2. The reassessments occur only once every five years, so the window to influence decisions is small. 
  3.  These decisions will have a long-term impact and influence how our energy system is designed for the future. This includes how consumer energy resources (CER) – like rooftop solar, electric cars, and home batteries — are integrated with the grid.  

The Consumer Empowerment Funding Program (CEFP)

Consumers have the opportunity to be involved in the reset process and influence network proposals and the AER’s decisions by joining network reset consumer panels. These panels provide advice and contribute to the development of proposals on the determination of revenue. To support consumers in this process, we’ve launched the Consumer Empowerment Funding Program (CEFP).

The CEFP will: 

  • Empower, inform and improve the capability of consumer panels to engage, discuss and influence regulatory proposals;  
  • Enable consumer panels to act more independently from the networks they are influencing;  
  • Nurture the next generation of consumer voices and add more representation and diversity to reset discussions.  

A key barrier to consumers’ ability to influence regulatory decisions is a lack of knowledge, skills, and resources. These processes are technically heavy, full of jargon, and often presented as more complicated than they are, making it challenging for the average consumer to feel confident in rooms with people that work on these processes every day. This challenge was also identified last year by the AER in its Better Resets Handbook, which encouraged networks to better engage with consumers. The Handbook noted that: 

Consumers cannot genuinely guide the development of a regulatory proposal unless they are appropriately equipped, informed, and supported to do so.

The CEFP has thus been designed to ensure that consumers are adequately supported to participate in the reset processes.  

How the CEFP supports consumer advocates

For the energy system to work for everyone; new and diverse consumer voices must be empowered to deliver proper representation. Through the CEFP, Energy Consumers Australia will provide financial support to diversify and amplify consumer voices within the reset process.  

Funding is available for reset consumer panels to enhance their capabilities and skills. This could include: accessing technical expertise, capacity building/training, independent report and submission writing services, facilitation of broader consultation with community, and small research projects. Up to $100,000 in total funding per reset cycle is available. 

To apply for this program, the network reset consumer panel must collaboratively decide on the funding request’s purpose and nominate one participant to fill in this straightforward online form. We will assess your funding requests in a timely and effective manner. You can apply for funding at any time during an ongoing network reset consumer engagement process (until the due date for the revised regulatory proposal submissions to the AER). 

An Expert Advisory Group to equip consumers

Another way the CEFP supports consumer voices is through the newly created Expert Advisory Group. Consumers can call on this group on demand to better respond to critical issues in network reset processes.

If you – or someone you know – have the expertise and skills to equip, empower, and amplify consumer voices in the energy space, this is your opportunity to support consumers as they genuinely shape the future of our energy system.   

Anyone with demonstrated expertise and experience in the energy sector or the revenue determination process is welcome to submit an online Expression of Interest to join our Expert Advisory Group any time. 

If you are a professional consultant, individual consumer expert, have worked in the energy industry and more, you might be a good fit for the advisory group. Successful applicants will engage with reset consumer panels to provide services such as technical expertise and independent advice, capacity building and training, and independent report and submission writing services. 

How the CEFP complements the networks

We understand that networks have varying levels of maturity with their consumer engagement approaches. This program is not intended to replace support that is already provided by networks. Network support and engagement of consumers during resets (and business-as-usual activities) is fundamental. We will continue to work with each network’s regulatory team to better understand how our funding can contribute to best network practices on consumer engagement.  

While we are using the CEFP to support consumers in resets, we will continue to engage and collaborate with network businesses on strategic issues and future operating models. This includes issues such as electrification, digitalisation, resilience, and integrated planning – issues which are often aspects of revenue determinations.

Other ECA funding options

The Consumer Empowerment Funding Program differs from our core Grants Program in scope, timeline, and eligibility criteria.  

If you are not part of a network reset consumer panel but want to be involved in advocacy related to the revenue determination processes, we strongly recommend that you apply for an Influence Grant  or Participation Grant. The table below shows the different ways ECA financially supports consumers’ advocacy work.  

Energy Consumers Australia’s funding options 

Funding Support Option Financial Support Available
Consumer Empowerment Funding Program Up to $100,000.00 per reset cycle.
Influence GrantUp to $200,000.00 per grant application.
Participation GrantUp to $15,000.00 per grant application.

Want to find out more?

If you have questions or would like more information about the Consumer Empowerment Funding Program, please contact our Senior Policy Associate Caroline Valente at: caroline.valente@energyconsumersaustralia.com.au

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