For many people, choices about energy are confusing and burdensome, rather than beneficial and empowering. Choice may lead to negative outcomes, and even catastrophe when people don’t get it right. The consequences of making a ‘wrong choice’ about energy include financial detriment and disconnection, which leaves households without essentials such as money for food or heating/cooling. An environment that promotes ‘choices’ can leave consumers vulnerable to retailers who present a deal that is attractive on the surface or in the short term, but ultimately leaves the consumer paying more for the energy they need.
Competition also has costs, for example, businesses will pass on the costs of advertising, marketing, and attracting and retaining customers. In a small state such as Tasmania, amplifying these activities would mean increasing costs to consumers, and it is not clear what, if any off-setting benefits would be generated.
If a competitive retail market fails to benefit people and communities, and fails to deliver affordable energy in a fair and reasonable context that enables people to participate in the ways that suit them, then it is not consumers who need to change their behaviour or improve their decision-making. Rather, the retail electricity sector needs to take seriously the responsibility it bears for providing an essential service to all people who need it.