Electricity prices to increase

ELECTRICITY users face colossal spikes in their power bills over the next three years.

Still reeling from a 20 per cent hike in the current year, consumers will be slugged by a massive 64pc hike in the next three years – all to fund infrastructure that Ballina MP Don Page says should have been paid for from the big profits energy suppliers have been making for many years.

“This is going to have a devastating impact on all people, but particularly low-income earners, of whom we have many in the Northern Rivers, and on small businesses,” Mr Page said.

Local consumers, already struggling with bills from Country Energy, face an increase of between $577 and $918 a year by 2013, after an Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) report yesterday.

Juniper Johnson, who lives with her partner and young son Ronan in Newrybar, has had to set up a $50 a month direct debit to avoid the shock of a $370-plus quarterly bill.

She was expecting the bills to go down, despite last July’s rise, because their air-conditioning had been out of action this summer. But she was disappointed to find her bill was the same.

Another mum who lives with her teenage son in Byron Bay is paying $50 a fortnight in back payments to reduce a horrendous bill from the past, as well as keeping up with current payments.

“The 64pc is an outrageous hike,” she said. “I’m dreading my winter bills. And I’ve got skills to negotiate a payment plan. But what about the less fortunate, and the elderly?”

Country Energy seemed to be the most expensive providers, she said.

“Why is that, when country people generally earn less than those in the cities?” she asked.

Average charges will increase by some 46pc for Integral Energy, 60pc for Energy Australia, and a massive 64pc for Country Energy customers.

Graeme Wilson, who saw the writing on the wall a few years ago and installed solar panels over his Bi-Rite electrical store in Mullumbimby, said: “The prices demanded for electricity are scary.”

He wondered if some of it would fund the ‘very generous’ offer by the Government to solar panel owners to sell their electricity back for 60¢/ kW.

“It’s as if they’re giving with one hand and taking away with the other.”

Mr Wilson installed a $12,800 grid-interactive solar system above his shop in December 2008, but said Country Energy had yet to supply gross meters so households with solar could start benefiting from their excess power.

Country Energy’s regional general manager, Richard Wake, said this week the price hikes were needed to help fund a $4 billion investment in infrastructure over the next five years.

But Mr Page said: “The NSW Government has for the past 15 years been extracting huge dividends from the power generators to prop up its budget. The money should have been used to invest in the network, instead of being used as a milch cow.”

State Minister for Energy, John Robertson, tried to give a silver lining to the news yesterday.

“More than one million NSW households will be eligible for a $145 energy rebate from July 1 this year to help pay their electricity bills,” he said, announcing a $48 million expansion of the program.

Premier Kristina Keneally admitted the price rises would be a burden to families, but said nobody could ignore the ‘reality’ of rising energy costs.

Claims that the Federal Government’s proposed carbon pollution reduction scheme were behind the increases were dismissed by Federal Climate Change Minister Penny Wong as ‘ simply wrong’.

“IPART’s final report clearly shows increased network prices are the main driver for the increase in electricity prices facing NSW households from July this year,” she said.

“It is up to the NSW Government to explain the reasons behind these price rises.”

Mr Page said he understood the State Government did not have to accept the IPART recommendations, and called on it to come up with something ‘more reasonable’.

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