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The BULB  •  Issue #18  •  February 2020
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The Bulb – The Bi-monthly Utilities Literacy Bulletin

 

The BULB aims to inform and inspire - a platform for ongoing education and support to community services workers, volunteers and the wider community. This publication is from ConnectEd - Keeping people connected to energy, water and communications.
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IN THIS ISSUE:

 


 

Next 2-day Training for Community Workers

 

Do you have clients who struggle with electricity, gas or water bills? Would you like to help them more, but don’t know how? This 2-day workshop will provide some answers!                                             

ConnectEd's 2-day Utilities Literacy Training for Community Workers will teach you about:
- Electricity, Gas and Water in South Australia
- Reading and understanding meters and bills
- Using energy and water efficiently at home
- How to choose an energy retailer and get a good deal
- Concessions, complaints, disputes and hardship
- New technologies and tariff reform.

TERM 1:
Day 1: Thursday 19 March 9:30 - 4:30
Day 2: Thursday 26 March 9:30 - 4:30
at UCWB, 77 Gibson Street, Bowden.
Register here

TERM 2:
Day 1: Wednesday 20 May 9:30 - 4:30
Day 2: Wednesday 27 May 9:30 - 4:30
at UCWB, 77 Gibson Street, Bowden.
Register here
 

Information sessions open to everyone 

 

Offered once a month across four locations in metropolitan Adelaide: Christies Beach, Semaphore Park, Smithfield and Beulah Park.

Learn how to read your bills and use less electricity, gas and water to save you money. You can also qualify for a FREE home energy assessment.                                              

Come for a cuppa and informal chat to:

- find the best energy plan for you
- read your bills and how to pay them
- learn where your big energy use is and lower cost alternatives
- ask any questions or share your tips.

To get the most out of this time, bring your most recent utility bills with you.

Find out here when the next session is offered near you.

See the Events page on the ConnectEd website for more information.

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Emberpulse FREE energy monitor trial



Eligible households may be able to receive a free energy management system as part of a Government subsidised trial. The Emberpulse system, developed here in Adelaide, aims to advise householders about cheaper plans and other ways to save on electricity.

Eligible households must be in metropolitan South Australia, own their home, have a split system air conditioner and a wired internet connection. Find more information about the initiative here.
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Bushfires and essential services


Bushfires in December and January in the Adelaide Hills and on Kangaroo Island not only burned homes and businesses, and tragically killed livestock, wildlife and people, they destroyed hundreds of kilometres of electricity distribution infrastructure.


Electricity installations have the capacity to start fires, either when live wires are knocked to the ground, or when a flashover leaps from one wire to another.

An arc flash or flashover occurs when a connection is made between two live electricity lines that should be separate. This can happen even when the vegetation around the lines is well clear, for instance when high wind carries a branch some distance or picks up garbage or other debris from the ground – but in a bushfire, the carbon particles in the smoke can be enough to bridge the distance and cause a flashover.

The electricity transmission and distribution network operators are very alert to the dangers of electricity in fire danger weather, and of fire to electricity infrastructure. In a recent presentation to their Community Reference Group, SA Power Networks’ Manager of Emergency Management, Frank Crisci, outlined how, when the fire risk is high, the sensitivity of fault detection equipment is turned right up, so as to turn off electricity lines at a hint of trouble. Ultimately, Crisci explained, when the risk of actually causing a fire power is weighed against the risk of leaving communities without power, sometimes the power must be switched off to reduce risk.


Image: SA Power Networks

In the wake of the fires, SAPN crews moved in to blackened landscapes to rebuild and reconnect as soon as they were given the safety clearance to do so. This summer, many SAPN staff worked through the traditional Christmas and New Year down-times to restore essential services to fire-affected communities. In the eastern states, some areas have gone weeks without electricity.
 
No power means no lights, appliances or cooling, and it can also mean no pumps to provide water. No power also means no internet or phone, and these days, when many people do not carry cash, it can mean no money. Stories emerged over summer of people caught out trying to evacuate from fire-threatened areas, with no access to their money due to internet service failures.

Power outages have also been blamed for loss of internet money services in remote Central Australian communities. Without internet, people with the Centrelink Basics Card are unable to buy even food.
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REES Review


The Retailer Energy Efficiency Scheme (REES) provides assistance for South Australian households and businesses to reduce energy consumption and thereby lower their energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Anticipating the next iteration of the scheme to commence in 2021, a Review of the scheme has been underway.


In the scheme, energy retailers are required to meet targets by delivering energy efficiency activities to customers. Retailers decide which 'activities' they will undertake, however, generally, these have been low-cost low-energy-saving items such as energy efficient light bulbs and water efficient shower heads distributed to customers by third-party contractors. See the participating retailers and a current list of sub-contractors here.

The Independent Evaluation found that the scheme has so far delivered over 180,000 energy efficiency upgrades and over $1 billion in energy bill savings to households and businesses. It concluded that there is a strong case for continuation of the scheme after 2020.

Uniting Care Wesley Bowden (the lead organisation for ConnectEd) and the SA Financial Counsellors Association (SAFCA) provided a joint response to the Directions Paper as part of the Review. The UCWB/SAFCA response:
  • supported the overall direction to improve energy productivity for households, with a particular focus on low-income households;
  • recommended that energy saving measures move beyond energy audits and low-cost, low-energy-savings activities, and focus on upgrades that deliver greater bill relief for those in need. Activities that could deliver deeper savings include the replacement of inefficient heating and cooling appliances, installation of ceiling fans, draught proofing, installation or replacement of insulation and window double or triple glazing;
  • welcomed the inclusion of rental households within the definition of priority groups, noting that tenants have limited ability to make energy efficiency improvements to their home;
  • noted that low-income energy efficiency programs in other states provide examples of how to help priority groups to achieve deeper energy savings; and
  • supported the suggestion that such programs could be delivered in partnership with community organisations.
Our recommendations have been well received in the recently published Review Report and changes to the program, including targets for 2021, will be announced later this year with further consultation to follow around that time. So watch this space...
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Mobile Data Management


Individuals or families who have multiple mobile phones might like to check out data sharing plans.
 

Optus and Vodafone both offer the ability to bundle plans on a single account, and then pool the data of those accounts so that all devices can draw from the one pool. This means that the heavier users in the family can easily use data allowance that would otherwise go unused by the lighter users.

Telstra’s data sharing plan closed to new entrants in July 2018. Customers who still have this plan will lose it if they upgrade.

Another alternative is data gifting, which is offered by Telstra’s budget brand, Belong. Belong customers can specify a portion of their data allowance to give to another Belong customer. Australia Post’s FlexiSIM, launched last December, also offers data sharing and gifting, with plans starting from $19 for unlimited talk and text with 8GB of data.

The other data management feature to look for is data banking, or the ability to roll unused data over into the next month, rather than just having it expire unused.
Optus offers its customers the option to donate their excess data allowance to young Australians living in poverty, who can use it for study, job search, information-seeking and entertainment. Optus prepaid customers can SMS the word “donate” to 4567 to receive instructions; mobile plan customers look for Donate Your Data in the My Optus app.
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Tracking Tariffs over Time

As well as tracking annual changes, the Vinnies Tariff Tracker project shows the changes to electricity prices over the 10 years from 2009 to 2019.


In that time, the average electricity bill in South Australia increased by almost 82 percent, from $1460 to $2652. Some years show significant jumps – 2011 shows an average increase of 31%, with 16.8% in 2012.

There was a 9.3% decrease in 2015, followed by an 11% increase in 2016 and a further 18.7% increase in 2017.

2019 saw a decrease of an average of 10.9%.

AER research shows that both average income and low income South Australians pay the largest proportion of their income on electricity of any of the states in the National Energy Market. A low income household on a median market offer spent 7.6% of their disposable income on electricity, while a median standing offer took as much as 9.9% of their income. Even an average income household spent between 3.9% and 4.9% of their income on electricity.

In welcome news, the AEMC predicts that South Australian electricity prices will fall by 2% from 2019-20 to 2021-22.
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Recycled water - cheap and responsible?
 

While in most places, SA Water is “the” water retailer, there are also a number of smaller water sellers.


We heard of one recently during a ConnectEd workshop – Lighstview ReWater.
 
Lightsview is a new development off Hampstead Rd in Adelaide’s north east. Lighstview ReWater sells recycled stormwater to Lightsview residents to use for gardens and toilet flushing. People who opt to build in Lightsview are obliged to connect to both SA Water and this secondary water source, and residents are obliged to pay a second quarterly access charge, as well as another set of water usage charges, in addition to their SA Water bill for potable water.

While the ReWater website promotes the recycled water as “environmentally responsible” water which “may result in savings to your overall water bill”, examination of the prices shows that, at $3.23/kL, this water is almost 84 cents per kilolitre more expensive than the cheapest SA Water tier, which costs $2.39/kL. Then there’s the quarterly Access Charge, which is enough to buy another 3500 litres of the water. A household would have to routinely use more than 33 kilolitres of water per quarter to begin to save by using this water to flush the loo and water the garden; and many homes in Lightsview are apartments and townhouses with small or balcony gardens.
 
Some other Adelaide suburbs, such as Mawson Lakes, use recycled water from SA Water wastewater treatment plants, which is sold for $2.147/kL, that's 24.5 cents per kilolitre less than the cheapest potable water. This water is similarly suitable for gardens and toilets, though not for drinking.
 
In 2017, Lightsview ReWater, a project of Water Utilities Australia, was in the news for rather unsavoury reasons – a resident discovered that the potable and recycled water supplies to their home had been switched.

It is worth noting that ALL water is recycled, though the cleanliness standards for water used for drinking and for watering gardens may differ.
Source: SA Water
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Origin and EnergyAustralia penalised                  for improper disconnections
 

Origin Energy has paid penalties totalling $80,000 following four infringement notices issued by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER).


Origin Energy disconnected a number of customers in a manner contrary to the National Energy Retail Rules. The Rules say that a domestic customer cannot be disconnected if they are on a hardship program or following a payment plan.

Origin Energy has been required to improve its systems and processes for managing disconnections.

In November, the AER commenced legal action against EnergyAustralia for wrongfully disconnecting eight customers experiencing financial distress. The AER also alleges that EnergyAustralia failed to maintain and implement its hardship policy and did not offer or apply payment plans to the customers, in breach of the National Energy Retail Law and Rules.
In news breaking this week, Alinta will face scrutiny from energy and privacy regulators, following questions about the way that the company handles customer data. This follows a number of identified cases of fraudulent practices in signing up new customers.
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New SA-NSW Interconnector
 

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) recently approved a submission by ElectraNet (owner/operator of the high voltage transmission network in SA) to build a $1.5 billion 900km long interconnector between Robertstown in SA and Wagga Wagga in NSW. 


The South Australian government has indicated that this new link is critical for the development of more than 5,000 MW of wind, solar and storage plants in South Australia and in south west NSW, in addition to strengthening SA’s resilience against bushfires and other disasters. The project will also facilitate low-cost renewable power generation to support NSW as its existing coal-fired generators are retired.

The Clean Energy Council has said that they “strongly support the project, which passes through multiple renewable energy zones and will allow new renewable energy projects to connect to the National Electricity Market ... This interconnector is important for the future of Australia’s National Electricity Market, as it builds a more flexible and resilient power system with more sources of clean energy”.

ElectraNet will now closely examine the Regulator’s reasoning and refine its own costings before seeking agreement from the Regulator on increases to the revenue ElectraNet is allowed to collect to pay for the project. ElectraNet and TransGrid aim to start construction this year (2020) after finalising detailed design and approvals, with a completion target of 2023.
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Disconnection numbers still high in SA and could go higher with smart meters
 

Two reports published in recent months cast light on those households disconnected from energy utilities for non-payment of bills. 


The AER’s Annual Retail Markets Report provides bald figures for disconnection. In 2018-19, the number of electricity disconnections for non-payment in South Australia remained high compared to other jurisdictions, at 1.32%, or 10,317 households. Only Queensland’s percentage is higher, at 1.33%. In that year, gas disconnections in SA fell significantly, from 1.03% of customers to 0.84%.
 
Electricity disconnections in South Australia jumped substantially from 2012-13 to 2013-14, from 0.73% to 1.37%, and the rate has remained above 1.3% annually since then. Gas disconnections also jumped that year, from 0.44% up to 0.86%, and reached a high of 1.23% in 2015-16, before falling to the current level.
 
AER data shows that across the NEM states, 51% of disconnected electricity customers had been on a payment plan in the previous 2 years. About 60% of all electricity payment plans and 65% of gas payment plans are eventually cancelled by the retailer when the customer does not meet the terms. One in five of those customers disconnected from electricity had already been disconnected more than once in the previous 2 years, while one in three were receiving an electricity concession, which did not save them from disconnection.
 
Almost a quarter of electricity disconnections and almost a third of gas disconnections are prompted by debts of less than $500.


Image: St Vincent de Paul Society & Alviss Consulting

Households in the Dark
St Vincent de Paul and Alviss Consulting have published their second “Households in the Dark” study of electricity disconnections, building on the previous study published in 2016. The report looks at where, when and why households are disconnected.
 
In South Australia, rural postcodes have the highest proportion of completed electricity disconnections in the state – of the 30 most disconnected postcodes, 20 are rural and 5 regional.
 
“Postcodes in South Australia that are at greatest risk of being disconnected are predominantly located in rural areas. These postcodes are often characterised by low income and more elderly population, but there are also areas with high disconnection numbers that are not typically associated with a high level of disadvantage.”
 
Gavin Dufty from St Vincent de Paul observed that the highest numbers of completed disconnections are closest to the electricity distributor depots – households that are further away get a little longer between the request for and the arrival of a crew to complete the disconnection. Figures from Victoria also indicate “a strong link between the roll out of smart meters (which enable disconnections to be done remotely) and increases in disconnection completion rates, as well as an increase in households being disconnected multiple times over a three-year period.” Households in Victoria, where smart meters are ubiquitous, are much more likely to actually be disconnected after the disconnection is requested – almost 44% were completed, compared with just 30% in South Australia.
 
The difference between raised and completed disconnections indicates that, with smart meters enabling remote disconnection, it may be fair to change the rules around disconnection so that householders formally get an extra period after a disconnection is raised in which to address their debt problem.
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Free Home Energy Visits 

 

ConnectEd has experienced Energy Assessors who can provide community members with home energy audits and give tailored energy advice.


Clients need to be referred to this FREE service via ConnectEd staff, so if you know someone who needs help with their household energy costs, send an email to: ConnectEd@unitingcommunities.org. If you have seen a financial counsellor or if you have attended ConnectEd community information sessions you are also eligible.
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The ConnectEd Program supports people to reduce financial hardship associated with electricity, gas, water and communication services.

 

4 ways to manage your energy and water bills

Make sure your energy deal is right for you
Find out if you are eligible for a concession
Be mindful of your consumption – save on energy and water use
Know how to get help if you need it
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The BULB is brought to you by the ConnectEd team at UCWB.
ConnectEd is funded by the Department of Human Services.

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call 8245 7100 or email ConnectEd@ucwb.org.au.
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UnitingCare Wesley Bowden (UCWB) · 77 Gibson Street · Bowden, SA 5007 · Australia

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