ECA CEO Rosemary Sinclair participated in a stakeholder session at the most recent COAG Energy Council meeting at Old Parliament House, Canberra on 4 December 2015.
The following is a short summary of some of her remarks whilst opening the session on Better Governance and Engagement.
Topic 4: Better Governance and Engagement
Thank you Minister for opportunity to make a few remarks on the Council Agenda Topic – Better Governance and Engagement.
Energy Consumers Australia – one of the Council’s earlier decisions – puts the voice of energy consumers directly into policy, regulatory and industry decision making processes. And we have taken that opportunity to participate in the Governance Review and to look at Engagement processes through the sector.
The National Energy Market matters – to every Australian household and business. Surveys we have conducted recently tell us people remain very concerned about prices and are exploring a range of distributed generation (solar PV) and demand management tools (storage batteries) in numbers that are likely to accelerate the transformation the sector is facing. We encourage Council members and industry to focus on what consumers are thinking and doing, and to work for good outcomes for consumers – they will drive the sector forward.
Governance may not seem the most exciting thing on this agenda – BUT it plays a critical role – it underpins confidence for residential and business consumers as Ministers would be aware having recently received a letter signed by a number of consumer advocates on this topic.
Governance underpins confidence:
- that the long-term interests of consumers as the underpinning concept reflects the potential for competition and choice to be the drivers of increased investment in sector assets and services
- that competition and innovation will be allowed to flourish in effectively competitive markets
- that consumers can participate confidently in these markets and that prices are fair and
- where needed support is provided so that Australians are not without the energy services they need to fully participate in society.
ECA sees three areas where clear strategic focus and very strong policy leadership by the Council members are essential:
- 1) Sector transformation – Australia needs a high quality grid but at the same time we need to focus on the innovations that could be possible with a strong and innovative energy services sector
- 2) Consumer confidence – in technologies, in tariffs and in tools to manage energy efficiency;
- And trust in the industry and regulators to remain focused on the long term interests of consumers as flexibility and rapid response become the norm.
- 3) Response to the Governance Review – the Council needs to put the Panel’s recommendations in place quickly to match the pace of change in the market. Council should be looking for implementation by its next meeting.
Australians are a commonsense lot – they want what’s good for the country and what’s fair.
The recommendations before you on Governance go to both of these factors. They are balanced recommendations – but they need to be implemented quickly to keep pace with market changes.
On Better Engagement:
The other response to dealing with rapid change is Engagement. A very important development from ECA’s perspective is the increased amount of engagement we have had from the Council and SCO, and steps to improved transparency and communication. We see ourselves as a feisty friend in these processes – focused on our task of ensuring the consumer voice is heard directly.
The work suggested in the Governance Review on changes to organisational culture and improved collaboration has started from ECA’s experience with AEMC, AER, AEMO (and industry) on topics of importance to consumers such as Strategic Priorities for Energy Market Development; Tariff Proposals; Information and Data exchange and Network Transformation.
We have undertaken an early review of the Engagement Experience of consumer advocates – and found the concern is the effectiveness of engagement and confidence that explicit consideration has been given to consumer concerns.
Building knowledge, skills and experience for advocates is one of ECA’s responsibilities and we are appreciating the increasing assistance from market bodies and industry in this task.
We have used the powers Council gave consumers through the Limited Merits Review process to enable consumer advocates to participate in important Tribunal review processes. We will continue to support this work and to build capacity through learning by doing.
We are also planning to engage directly with consumers through robust market research to identify the issues of concern to consumers and to understand these concerns so we can play a part in helping markets and Ministers to respond.
Engagement is like invention – 99% perspiration; 1% inspiration – we all need to keep working on effective engagement.
The place where consumers really want to engage is in the market – our joint task is to work toward a truly effective national energy market meeting the long term interests of its consumers.
Information about the December COAG Energy Ministers meeting and decisions is summarised in the Communique which is available here