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The BULB  •  Issue #19  •  December 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:


 
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SPOTLIGHT - Electricity tariff transition picks up pace


The impacts of a 2014 change to the electricity rules intensified from 1 July 2020, with SA Power Networks now applying new Time of Use network tariffs to residential customers with smart meters.


Those customers won’t necessarily see this on their bills, as retailers don’t have to format their retail tariffs the same as the network tariffs. However, the retailers do have to collect the money to pay the bill from the network operator, and the simplest way to do this is to pass the network tariff straight through to the customer.

Several retailers are now offering Time of Use retail contracts to customers, and this may become more common as Time of Use network tariffs become the default for more and more customers. Increasingly, householders will need to understand whether to choose a Time of Use electricity contract, and how to make it work for them.


A new electricity rule requires SA Power Networks (SAPN) to charge for their service in a new way. SAPN bills the electricity retailers for the network tariffs that apply to individual customers. Retailers, in turn, bill the customers, but as they also collect money for wholesale electricity and other costs, the network tariffs are just one component of the retail price, though a significant component.

In South Australia, more than 80 percent of residential electricity connections still have old accumulation meters that are read each quarter, and these remain on the familiar “Residential Single Rate” network tariff. The other 18 to 20 percent of South Australian residential electricity connections now have new “smart” interval meters, which can record the amount of electricity used in each half hour period around the clock. As the meter upgrade project progresses, by 2025 smart meters will be installed in about half of all SA homes.

From 1 July 2021, this type of meter will have “Residential Time of Use” (RToU) network tariffs applied as the default.

SAPN’s Residential Single Rate tariff features a daily supply charge, plus a price per kilowatt hour of electricity delivered to the household. The Residential Time of Use tariff includes a daily supply charge, plus different prices for usage at different times of day.[1]

Both of these residential tariffs can be paired with a Controlled Load tariff, which has previously been called “off-peak” or “J-tariff”, usually for a hot water service on a circuit that can be turned on and off by a timer. This timer-controlled usage has previously been charged at a flat rate (Off-Peak Controlled Load – OPCL), but since 1 July 2020, SAPN has placed all controlled load connections with a smart meter on a new “Controlled Load – Time of Use” network tariff (CL-ToU).

This means that the price of controlled load will vary throughout the day. If their retailer chooses to pass this tariff on to customers, householders may need to ensure that their hot water system heats during the cheapest time of day, to take best advantage of the CL-ToU tariff.

The Time of Use tariff for non-controlled loads will be applied over the next year. During 2020-21, any new (eg new build) or upgraded (eg solar installation) connections will be put on the RToU tariff, though customers will have some options to opt out. SAPN plans to switch all remaining smart meter connections to the RToU tariff from 1 July 2021.

SAPN has a third residential tariff option, the Prosumer tariff. This features a daily supply charge, and time-of-use prices for kilowatt hours used, which are cheaper than those for the regular Time of Use tariff. The Prosumer tariff also features a charge calculated on the maximum flow of electricity, in kilowatts, that the customer uses during peak times.[2] Customers who feel that this tariff will suit them can request it through their retailer; some retailers may use it as the base for innovative market contract offers.

This tariff innovation is a policy response to the trend of households using less and less electricity during the day (partly due to solar panels on so many roofs), but still needing to use lots of power at peak times, such as hot summer afternoons. From an electricity system point of view, this is inefficient, expensive, and makes the system vulnerable to blackout. The aim of the new tariffs is to send price signals to customers so that we will either pay more to use power at peak times, or change our electricity use behaviour and use less when the system is under most strain.
 
[1] From 6am to 10am and from 3pm to 1am (Peak), SAPN charges for usage at 125% of the single rate price; from 1am to 6am (Off-peak), the price is 50% of the single rate tariff price; and from 10am to 3pm (Solar Sponge), usage costs just 25% of the single rate price.
[2] The maximum flow, or kilowatt demand, is measured between 5pm and 9pm, November to March.
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EXAMPLE: LUMO Contract Offers

A search of EnergyMadeEasy.gov.au shows 12 offers from Lumo Energy: 4 products – Basic, Plus, Movers, and the Standing Offer, each offered in 3 pricing structures – single rate, time of use, and TOUCL.
  • The “single rate” products feature either a single flat rate for usage, or a couple of rates that increase as usage passes 10.96 kWh per day (“inclining block tariffs”). They also feature a single flat rate for controlled load usage.
  • The “time of use” products feature different rates for different times of the day. The Peak, Off-peak and Shoulder tariffs are charged for both general household usage AND for controlled load, meaning that the price for running a controlled load is up to 40.92 c/kWh during the peak times of day.
  • “TOUCL” stands for “Time of Use Controlled Load”. This suite of products features the flat/block tariffs for general usage, but has controlled load usage charged according to the time of use tariffs.
And the differences between Basic, Plus, Movers and the Standing Offer?
Basic, Plus, and Movers provide access to a “rewards” program offering shopping discounts. Plus and Movers pay credits to the rewards program for paying on time; Basic and Plus are priced at 7% less than the Reference Price for 4000 kWh per year, and Movers at 2% less. Daily connection charges range from 90.805 cents per day up to 117.70 cents per day for the Standing Offer.

It's a bit like one of those word problems on a maths test... You know: "There are 85 people in a warehouse. Some have been turned into zombies. If the ratio of zombies-to-living-humans is 2:3, how many zombies are there?" *
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SA Gov pushes Time of Use Standing Tariff


The South Australian government is requiring electricity retailers to place certain customers on new, more complex tariffs. These customers may require support to understand and make best use of the new styles of tariff.


Electricity system planners are concerned that South Australia is particularly vulnerable to demand for electricity exceeding system capacity – leading to the threat of blackouts. Consequently, the Government has introduced a requirement for electricity retailers to place all their customers with both a standing contract AND a smart meter onto a tariff that mirrors the SAPN Time of Use or Prosumer tariffs.

The Time of Use tariff can only be applied where customers have a smart meter installed. This is less than 20 percent of residential customers, so far, about half of whom have solar systems. Most solar customers, and customers who have requested a smart meter from their retailer, may well be on market contracts for the price benefits. The remaining smart meters have been installed at the retailer’s or distributor’s request.

About 8 percent of residential customers in South Australia are on standing contracts. These customers, who have not chosen to sign up to a market contract, may well be the least engaged customers in the retail market – those who have low confidence in their ability to make a good choice, or who are unaware of the price benefits of a market contract.

The question is, then, how many customers are in the overlap of both groups, and are these customers – low engagement, with an unrequested smart meter – perhaps among the most vulnerable customers in the market?

Anyone who finds themselves on a Time of Use or Demand standing tariff, and does not want to be, can choose to switch to a market contract with a flat rate tariff structure.
 
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Renewable Beer Energy


When COVID-19 shut down the hospitality industry, millions of litres of undrunk beer passed its expiry date. 


However, it did not go entirely to waste – diverted to SA Water’s Glenelg Wastewater Treatment Plant, the beer fuelled biogas digesters and boosted renewable energy generation to 654,000 kilowatt hours in a single month.

Prior to their recently developed taste for beer, the digesters would typically generate enough biogas to provide around 80 per cent of the Glenelg facility’s energy needs.

Meanwhile, in NSW/ACT, hotels and a major brewer have joined forces to sign a 10 year agreement to purchase renewable energy and secure a 40% saving on electricity costs.
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AER Statement of Expectations Update


The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) continues to monitor and advise the energy industry through the global COVID-19 pandemic, publishing a third Statement of Expectations of energy businesses on 30 October. This statement applies from 1 November 2020 to 31 March 2021, and seeks to protect both customers and the energy market from the worst rippling impacts of energy debt.
 

While the first Statement called on retailers to suspend disconnections for non-payment for residential and small business customers, the second and third Statements reigned in that expectation to apply to residential customers and large businesses who are in contact with their retailer, and small business customers who stick to an agreed payment plan.

Since August, customers who have not contacted their energy retailer can be and have been disconnected for non-payment of energy debt.

However, the AER does expect retailers to waive disconnection and reconnection fees if such a customer seeks reconnection. Further, retailers are asked not to refer debts to debt collection agencies or credit default listings until at least 31 March 2021.

Retailers are also asked to look for customers who may be in vulnerable circumstances, and to work with them to minimise hardship and debt while maintaining the supply of energy.

It is therefore vital that customers do make contact with their electricity and gas retailers if they are unable to pay in full and on time, and it’s important to agree to make some payments if this is at all possible. In return, the retailer may be able to offer a cheaper plan, recalculate any debt based on a cheaper plan, and renegotiate payment plans according to need as circumstances change.
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Hardship and Debt
 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has asked for more frequent information from energy retailers regarding customer debt, payment, and hardship plans, in addition to the quarterly and annual reports usually published on the AER website.


The statistics indicate that some retailers have allowed financially distressed customers to merely defer energy debt, rather than setting up a payment plan or hardship plan. Unsurprisingly, debt levels increased in 2019-20, but fewer customers received hardship support, and of those that did, almost half are not meeting their usage costs and are therefore going further into debt.

For those who do receive support from their retailer’s hardship program, the most likely outcome is to eventually be excluded from the program for non-payment. Fewer than one third of hardship customers successfully complete a hardship program and return to normal billing cycles.

Only 38% of South Australian customers on hardship programs were receiving the government energy concession.
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SA Power Networks (SAPN) offers a Disconnection for Non-Payment Pre-Visit service to electricity retailers. Retailers can engage SAPN on a fee-for-service basis to visit customers to provide in-person warning of impending disconnection, and encourage engagement with their retailer. SAPN reports that the service leads to 56% of disconnection service orders being cancelled before being carried out.

However, as smart meters are installed at more premises, the role of disconnecting for non-payment will pass from SAPN to other metering coordinators – and disconnecting a smart meter can be done without needing to visit the premises. One metering coordinator, which has responsibility for about half of South Australia’s smart meters, is reportedly planning to start remote disconnection by the end of 2020.
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World first for solar power


In a world first, South Australia ran entirely on solar power for just over one hour, between midday and 1pm on Sunday 11 October, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) reports.


“Never before has a jurisdiction the size of South Australia been completely run by solar power, with consumers’ rooftop solar systems contributing 77 per cent,” said AEMO Managing Director and CEO, Audrey Zibelman. Large-scale solar farms generated the other 23 per cent of power.

“South Australia is experiencing a surge in rooftop solar installations.  AEMO is forecasting an additional 36,000 new rooftop solar systems in the next 14 months, which will mean that South Australia’s grid will see zero demand as rooftop solar alone will be capable of meeting 100 per cent of demand,” Ms Zibelman said.

“This is truly a phenomenon in the global energy landscape,” she said.
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Employees in Poverty Need Phones
 

The recent SACOSS "Working to Make Ends Meet" conference highlighted the importance of telecommunications to those people living below the poverty line, whose income mainly comes from wages.


People living on low wage incomes are often especially reliant on access to phone and internet services as a tool of their employment. It can be their "lifeline to work", particularly when work is insecure and shifts change often. In some cases, employers have clearly shifted a cost of the workplace onto their employees, who do their work by using their personal devices and connections - see SACOSS's report, Paying to Work.
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COVID-Safe Information sessions 

 

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


If you know a group that would like to learn about utilities, do get in contact with us - we can work with you to provide safe and appropriate education sessions, either face-to-face or online.                                


Join us for a relaxed, 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.

Check the ConnectEd.org.au Events pages to find out here when the next session is offered near you - we'll try to keep this list updated when things change due to COVID-19.

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Free Home Energy Assessments by telephone or video call


ConnectEd has experienced Energy Assessors who can provide community members with home energy audits and give personalised energy advice. This service is available over the phone, with a face-to-face follow-up in the home when needed, in accordance with social distancing measures.


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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Next 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 workshop will provide some answers!                                             

In Term 1, 2021, we're planning to deliver this workshop twice - face-to-face at Bowden over 2 Tuesdays in February, and online via Zoom over 5 Wednesdays in March.

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.

FACE-TO-FACE:
Day 1: Tuesday 16 February 9:30 - 4:30
Day 2: Tuesday 23 February 9:30 - 4:30
at UCWB, 77 Gibson Street, Bowden.
Register here

ONLINE:
Wednesdays 3, 10, 17, 24, 31 March 
9:30 - midday
Register here

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ConnectEd 2020 Christmas Jukebox
 

As we bid farewell to 2020, hopes for 2021 are tempered by the knowledge that the COVID-19 vaccines will take a while to roll out, while some government supports are wound back. Our communities are going to continue to need the community sector's hard work in 2021.


It seemed strangely appropriate to revisit an Australian Christmas classic from Mental As Anything. Released in 1984, this song's subtitle is "Wiping the Smile off Santa's Face".

We hope you get a holiday break, before we pick it all up again in the new year!

* Answer: 34 zombies! Aiieee!!
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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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