The federal and state governments can take important steps to reduce the cost of energy for struggling Tasmanian households, writes Adrienne Picone.
DO you think twice about turning on the heater to avoid a higher energy bill? With the days getting colder, Tasmanians can ill afford to pay more for electricity.
Yet the perils of energy inefficient homes will be borne out in higher bill sat a time when the cost of living is already spiralling out of control for many households.
It’s more important than ever that government acts now to address household energy affordability.
TasCOSS is focused on three key levers in the hands of our decision-makers at the commonwealth and state level that will make a real difference to Tasmanian household energy costs.
Firstly, an immediate opportunity to make our electricity more affordable through fairer pricing.
Secondly, improved digital access for better managing energy usage and costs.
Thirdly, investment in household energy efficiency upgrades to help lower household power bills.
Despite electricity price decreases in the past two years, Tasmanians still have the highest electricity bills in the country.
Ninety-seven per cent of Tasmanian households pay regulated prices for their electricity.
This regulated price is set by the Tasmanian Economic Regulator (independent of Aurora Energy and the Tasmanian government) and is the maximum price Aurora can charge for its services.
The regulator is undertaking a review that will set the regulated retail price of electricity for the next three years.
This process is a rare opportunity for consumer advocates to directly influence the price of electricity.
To this end, TasCOSS (jointly with the Tasmanian Small Business Council) made a comprehensive submission to the regulator to ensure the needs and concerns of households are at the forefront of decisions.
We identified savings and efficiencies, and made direct recommendations to the regulator that, if adopted, would flow through to lower regulated retail prices for consumers.
Given the absence in Tasmania of market pressure to force greater efficiency and lower costs on retailers, TasCOSS is looking to the regulator to ensure that consumers with limited market power and resources are protected.
A positive start is the removal of Aurora’s $40 annual product fee for the aurora+ app, which enables Tasmanian consumers to better manage their energy use and have greater control over their electricity costs.
Charging an app fee is out of step with customer expectations and retailers in other jurisdictions, in turn locking out thousands of Tasmanians from accessing the benefits of aurora+.
More than 65,000 Tasmanians are not online, with even more having limited digital skills and confidence to use new technology.
This highlights the need for further government investment in digital skills, access and affordability.
Empowering more Tasmanians with the digital literacy, confidence and access to utilise products such as aurora+ will deliver benefits including better control over energy usage.
TasCOSS is calling on the next federal government, and the Tasmanian government in the lead-up to the state budget, to commit to a program of investment in energy efficiency upgrades for Tasmanians on low incomes, together with minimum energy efficiency standards for rental properties.
Addressed individually, lower retail electricity prices, improved digital access and skills, or investment in household energy efficiency will help to improve energy affordability.
However, a commitment and significant investment to tackle these issues together will make a real difference to households.
Adrienne Picone is chief executive of the Tasmanian Council of Social Service.