27 October 2021

Canberrans shocked after mysterious jump in electricity prices

| James Coleman
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Electricity

Electricity prices in the ACT have risen by 11.95 per cent since 1 July. Photo: James Coleman.

COVID-19 lockdowns forced many Canberrans to work from home over the last quarter and, being winter, the heaters were on full bore more often than not, so the latest electricity bill was unlikely to be happy reading.

But it seems many could not begin to comprehend the figure that did arrive.

Bonner resident Julie Okely lives in a house with her son and says her bill for the past 12 weeks was $1,000 more than the same period last year.

“I have never paid $1,700 for electricity in the 10 years that I have been here,” she said.

Ordinarily, Julie runs a hair salon from one of the rooms in the house, but it closed along with every other hair salon in the ACT when lockdown commenced on 26 August.

“I couldn’t run my business so there was no power being used there. My daughter has moved out so we had one less body. The rest of my lifestyle hasn’t changed much in the past few years.”

Julie isn’t alone, with many other Canberrans taking to social media with stories of improbably high power bills over the last quarter.

“My neighbour received a bill for about $3,000, and I’ve lived across from her for years, and nothing has changed in her house,” Julie says.

Julie Okely

Julie Okely’s home-based hair salon was put on hold during lockdown. Photo: Tracy Lee, Canberra Wise Women.

ActewAGL is the leading energy provider in the ACT, with about 90 per cent market share. They say that in line with public-health restrictions, metre reading was briefly suspended during the first few weeks of lockdown, leading to an increase in bill estimations.

A spokesperson said, “Additionally, we have been informed that meter readers are adhering to adjusted procedures to ensure COVID-safety, including skipping sites where meters are in internal dwellings, behind locked gates or where mandated physical distancing requirements cannot be achieved”.

Estimates consider a number of parameters, the most common being historical usage, which includes usage over the same period the previous year.

The section on the bill that shows the meter reading will also note if it is based on an estimated reading.

“If a customer has received an estimated bill or believe their meter has been read incorrectly, they can request another attempt or submit their own meter reading,” the spokesperson said.

“Alternatively, customers can also choose to wait until the next scheduled meter reading (usually every three months). When ActewAGL next receives an actual meter read, energy bills are adjusted up or down accordingly to ensure customers will only ever pay for the energy they use.”

In line with this, Julie was advised to check how the number in her meter box compared to the estimation she had received. She was told that her bill stood as accurate because the number wasn’t far off the number from a year ago.

Julie was under a discounted arrangement for her electricity, water and gas, but this lapsed without her knowledge in 2016 and was never renewed. Since then, she has been paying retail rates on all her utilities.

Her gas and water bills were around the $200 mark, which she says is completely normal. She has a continuous gas hot water system and a gas cooktop.

Julie has since lodged a complaint regarding what she describes as an “exorbitant and out-of-proportion electricity bill” and requested usage figures from the last 10 years. In the meantime, she’s left to find $1,700.

“Imagine those people living on a pension, or COVID-19 Disaster payment, or a single income. Do they just have to not use electricity? The whole thing is just really bizarre.”

Earlier this year, the ACT’s Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission announced an increase to electricity prices by 11.95 per cent from 1 July 2021. For the average household, this works out at about $5 extra per week.

If you find yourself facing a large, surprising utility bill, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) recommends customers first try talking to their electricity company to resolve any issues. If this doesn’t work, follow up with a complaint in writing. If you are still unable to resolve the issue, contact the ombudsman. In the ACT, this is the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT).

ACAT deals with wide a range of energy and water complaints, including customers who believe they have been overcharged.

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Capital Retro7:50 am 03 May 22

Last week a colleague told me electricity prices in Australia were going to double. I couldn’t find any evidence on the usual news feeds to corroborate this but yesterday I received advice from Origin that from the end of May the “new plan” for my service would be over double what I am paying now.

I spoke with them and suggested it would be cheaper to go off grid and use a petrol generator and they said “that has been the response we have had from a number of customers”.

I am predicting panic buying of blankets this week.

Capital Retro9:53 pm 28 Oct 21

“https://the-riotact.com/acts-power-bills-set-to-fall-as-renewables-make-their-mark/355342”

Ha, ha.

Jenny Graves4:13 pm 28 Oct 21

We had a bill that was about 50% higher, both on our gas and electricity, which was quite a shock, given that we are both retired and nothing had changed since last year. We called them, they sent a meter reader out and it turned out that both of them were completely out of the ballpark. We were sent a revised bill. I don’t know why other people haven’t received the same treatment.

I suspect there are same internal software problems in their billing systems. In my case , last bill was OK but also a wake up ca to take further mitigation action.

So, I had a further 6kw of PV installed and all the apps are telling me I am pretty close to being in negative net use territory. Funnily, after 6 weeks of the latest billing period having my panels running I get a fairly similar bill to the previous one. Nothing else has changed much. Guess I should get onto the ACTEWAGL canned music queue.

Spot on Chewy. As has been pointed out by a few people over the last year. The ACT government has signed up fixed price 20 year deals with renewable electricity providers at something like 3 times the current electricity price. We’ve gone from the cheapest electricity in the country to amongst the most expensive.

While there is no doubt that the contracts are unfavourably placed at the moment, its not ‘3 times the current electricity price’ on any consistent basis – plenty of data available here on both reporting sides – firstly reporting of payments by ACT Gov, and then AEMO wholesale market prices.

https://www.environment.act.gov.au/energy/cleaner-energy/renewable-electricity-costs-and-reviews

https://aemo.com.au/en/energy-systems/electricity/national-electricity-market-nem/data-nem/data-dashboard-nem

Given the volatility in spot prices – any measure based on spot prices at any point is time is basically meaningless – monthly or ideally the annual data gives a better picture. Not for one second saying we aren’t paying more then we would be under better contracting. But its most certainly not 3x, and it does vary (i.e. at periods of the year where prices are higher we do benefit).

I think it was Solarshare that had a high fixed contract price.

It does bj – but its an absolutely tiny proportion of total electricity contracted and miniscule compared to the much bigger contracts – which are (relatively) more reasonable in the agreed unit price.

Doesn’t mean we aren’t getting ripped off, but the Solarshare one is not a good representative of the average cost across all of it, as it is definitely an outlier (a project that clearly went ahead for other reasons, not financial/economic based.)

I received a bill 30% higher than the same period last year. Given that our consumption was LESS this time, I tried to resolve the issue with ACTEWAGL. I was met with a curt response to tell me that I would have to pay $38 to have the meter reading checked and there is nothing else they could do. I am sure they could have been more helpful.

I am sure they could too but, read it yourself.
https://www.actewagl.com.au/en/plans-and-connections/meters/how-do-i-read-my-meter
The reading will rule.

…and remember to take a clear photograph of the meter readings, in case you need to submit a correction.

Something doesn’t add up with the excuses the operator has given.

I’m am sure they could have had more than one staff member during the lockdown period and the fact they do the maintenance themselves makes this even more fishy.

Likewise supply shops like Bunnings and more specialist suppliers never stopped operating or being able to sell to business like this.

Capital Retro9:50 pm 28 Oct 21

And weren’t smart meters which are now in most ACT meter boxes supposed to allow ActewAGL to read the meter remotely?

Smart meters are only installed in new properties since 2017, or people that have had their meters replaced since then. Suspect they still make up only a small proportion of total meters.

Capital Retro2:16 pm 29 Oct 21

I thought anyone that has rooftop solar had to have a smart meter. That’s what I was told when I got some quotes. So that would mean a lot more houses have them than don’t have them.

Capital Retro,
No smart meters have only been mandated in the last few years.

For example, I personally have solar panels but no smart meter because they were installed prior to the mandate.

The vast majority of people still have the older manually read meters, which will only be replaced over time.

Capital Retro9:05 pm 29 Oct 21

Thanks for clarifying that chewy14. I didn’t proceed with solar because ActewAGL said I had to have a new smart meter and they said that would cost me nearly $800. The return on my investment at 0.11c export rebate was already behind the eight ball so I did not proceed.

They recently put one in anyhow because they said the old one was faulty. I note the new meter is owned by Macquarie (Bank)?

Capital Retro6:25 pm 27 Oct 21

But but but are renewables cheaper and we get 100% renewables, don’t we?

Yes, and if you actually knew anything about the electricity market, you’d know that we are actually paying more because renewables are cheaper.

Such is the incompetence of the ACT Government locking in a guaranteed profit for suppliers whilst renewable generators have caused the wholesale price of electricity to fall.

Lucky the transition to cheaper renewables is unstoppable, they will be supplying more than half our energy within the decade. And almost all of it within 20 years.

Capital Retro9:23 pm 27 Oct 21

I’m not interested in what the ACT government does with electricity because I don’t use ActewAGL any more.

Capital Retro,
As above, that comment just announces you don’t know much about the topic you’re commenting on.

If you live in the ACT, It doesn’t matter which electricity retailer you’ve chosen, the effects on electricity prices due to the ACT government contracts apply.

Capital unless you have moved to NSW or gone off grid then I’m sorry to disappoint but what Chewy tried to explain to you still applies regardless of which retailer you use. What the government does does effect your electricity price.

Capital Retro12:25 pm 28 Oct 21

You are both wrong.

Capital Retro,
Your detailed response containing links to evidence has convinced me. Oh wait, no, it hasn’t because you’ve once again provided nothing to back up your point.

Perhaps before embarrassing yourself further, you should do some research on the difference between electricity retailers and distributors and what our bills are actually made up of in the ACT.

https://www.icrc.act.gov.au/energy/electricity/retail-electricity-prices-2020-24/update-of-the-2021-22-regulated-electricity-prices-for-small-customers

Capital Retro8:29 pm 28 Oct 21

I have it in writing from my current electricity supplier that the increases in prices that ActewAGL are passing on are not being passed on to me and the last bill I got from them last week confirms that.
If paying half what I used to pay means embarrassing myself further then I am happy to be your whipping boy.

Capital Retro,
You either didn’t read the link or you don’t understand it.

You may have a letter from a retailer offering you a cheaper retail price but it isn’t because you aren’t paying the underlying increase that is paid by all customers in the ACT regardless of their retailer.

Exactly as the link I’ve said advises, customers should shop around to different retailers and they may be able to get a better deal.

But the underlying charges for the ACT government schemes are paid by all.

If that’s too difficult to comprehend, I’ll give you an example, you might get.

My mate, let’s call him Cap, always shops at a greengrocer that charges high prices.

The price of tomatoes suddenly increases due to growing issues and our friend Cap isn’t happy.

I point out to Cap that the greengrocer he’s going to is a rip-off and he can get the exact same tomatoes from another shop that is cheaper.

Cap then buys his tomatoes from the other cheaper store, despite that store facing the exact same higher supply prices as the first one.

So is our friend Cap paying the higher tomato supply prices now that he’s moved to the other store?

Of course he is, he’s just not paying as much for the other retail add-ons or specific packaging anymore.

Capital Retro2:20 pm 29 Oct 21

You obviously didn’t read my last post: “I have it in writing from my current electricity supplier that the increases in prices that ActewAGL are passing on are not being passed on to me……”

And your tomato analogy is simply nonsense.

Capital Retro,
I’ve read your comments but you aren’t actually understanding what the letter you claim to have says.

What you have is a letter from one retailer saying that they can deliver you a product cheaper than their competition.

ie. Aldi telling you they can sell you tomatoes for cheaper than Woolworths, even though it’s virtually the same end product.

But what you aren’t getting is the differences between the electricity distribution company and the retailers.

The price increase for electricity in the ACT comes through the distributor (now called Evoenergy, despite still being part of the wider ActewAGL company). They are the sole distribution company in the ACT, they own all the poles and wires. You cannot escape the price increase, because it underpins all bills as outlined in the previous link. Here is the ownership/partnership structure of the company.

https://actewagljv.com.au/joint-venture

Ironically one of the reasons why they changed the name of the distribution company to Evoenergy is to avoid the exact type of confusion you have.

All your previous comments have shown is that you were on an expensive and/or unsuitable electricity plan from one retailer and have now found a better deal from another retailer. You haven’t avoided the price increase.

The underlying cost of the actual service including the price increase from the ACT government has not changed. It is inescapable for ACT electricity users unless you go off grid.

Capital Retro6:15 pm 29 Oct 21

What can’t you understand about the statement “the increases in prices that ActewAGL are passing on are not being passed on to me”?

Capital Retro,
I can’t get the bit where you freely wear your ignorance as a badge.

ActewAGL is a retailer. Your new company is a retailer.

They are forced to use Evoenergy as an electricity distributor, who have automatically passed on the electricity price increase to all users in the ACT.

As an ACT resident using electricity from the grid, you are one of them.

Like other company’s they do have some room (although highly regulated) to charge people more if they’re dumb enough to choose poor deals. Thanks for freely highlighting you are one of those people.

It’s been illuminating to see someone so thoroughly misunderstand such a simple issue, even when direct links are provided outlining the topic in simple language.

Although it is also truly hilarious to see you on one hand complain about renewable energy but on the other hand then claim your bill is now much lower, which necessarily is because of renwables.

Seeing as the same distribution company your retailer is forced to use also has to purchase 100% renewable energy to offset the full ACT demand, your argument is that renewables are now providing you with cheaper electricity.

Bahahahahahaha, well done.

Kathy Blunden1:23 pm 27 Oct 21

I was also totally shocked with my electricity bill. It is the highest bill I have ever received and I have solar panels!!!

I am surprised that the “11.95%” keeps being repeated without qualification. The following comparison uses data from “ACT Electricity Prices” for each of 2020-21 and 2021-22 published by A Leading Electricity Provider. I looked at residential TOU rates.
Supply: up 8.9%
Peak: up 14.4%
Shoulder: up 12% (11.95%, more precisely)
Off peak: up 17.4%
Check these against your usage for last year and you may find a much greater total increase than 11.95%, even allowing the lower supply charge and especially if any solar panels cover your “shoulder”.

People are repeating 11.95% because that is the only figure provided regarding the price increase printed on our most recent ACTEW bill, without further qualification.

It is a weighted average across a range of plans – so it means some will go up more, some go up less. Over the basket of plans (There are a lot in there), the average is 11.95%.

As always, the devil is in the detail.

Rather my point, JS9.
“…without qualification”. With significantly different individual circumstances, to give an answer to two decimal places is absurd. Perhaps a range guide for a broad centre would have made sense.

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