The wax lyrical, but fact – bad behaviours in the Energy Industry

The Checkout in its wax lyrical style ran a story on Energy contracts including exit fees.  Had we not seen it we may have felt we were alone in our concern for the behaviours in the industry. Obviously, this media version was directed for the public appetite, but the story is based on fact! Consumer laws are very weak and the National Electricity Laws strongly favour the Energy Companies.

The Checkout story was run on the ABC (Australian) on 26 June 2014, 8PM. It is also interesting that it did not highlight a single company practicing or should we say taking advantage of ‘trust me’ then doing the screw you turn on you the user – it highlighted a common practice among many retailers in the industry. We appreciate residential customers have some protections, but that in NSW is set to change or should we say leave many people further exposed to the behaviours. Whilst the market will be fully deregulate, it would seem the Laws and rules of the industry will not be amended soon.

Those with legal training, or savvy enough will avoid the pitfalls and probity issues of the simple thing and essential commodity – energy needs. However, in a conversation with the other side (a energy retailer) recently they admitted that they too found it difficult to follow the rules. Why, consider this: You want to change the wording on your contract – a simple word change on a clause. You have a dispute and that word is found to ‘not flow’ with the rest of the contract. Therefore the wording of the National Electricity Law is to be relied on. It overrides what is written in your contract. Ok that is the scary part. The practical is that mum and dad’s are told ‘we care, we will look after you, you will save, that’s good is it not ‘– you say yes, and Call Centre then declares you are now under contract. So simple – but, you don’t save. That issue is covered off so well in The Checkout Story.

Business customers have a little more exposure in that depending on their size, according to the market, as opposed to Corporations Law, they will need to be careful of the Energy Service Agreement (ESA), the Contract, they have presented to them. For instance, most have terms and conditions in the standard form that will penalize for exceeding consumption caps. The penalty can result in the price offered being withdrawn and you being placed on a default tariff that can be hundreds of percent higher than what you negotiated. Another trap is that you need to be mindful that the network charges are not negotiated in most standard form agreements. You might say, the rules say a network tariff review must be conducted – but beware it is not binding on the retailer that they be negotiated unless stipulated on the contract.

That last paragraph also highlights what you need to know. Your consumption caps are not binding on the network company. The ESA is a contract for supply from the retailer – it protects the retailers from its risk in the market. The transport and distribution networks will rely on what is the constraints of the system and set limits as it sees affects its asset. An example: Your retailer ESA says 20% variation allowed. Your network company – generally a default and deemed contract according to law, say we will impose a demand tariff on you when you exceed 160MWh per annum load. It may be good it may be bad depending on your circumstance. But, what is does not do is connect your circumstance to your ESA. You should also be aware the majority of business is distribution connected and prices set for the transport are determined by an approved formula. If you are large enough to be classified for a transmission connection you can have sway in contracting and negotiating what you take from the system. For the very large customer you also need a team of lawyers to complete the deal.

Now, all above is about import power, what if you want to export power – small scale generation – well what was called a power purchase arrangement (PPA) is now a Energy Supply Agreement (ESA) as described by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER). Before we go any further did you notice the near same term and the same acronym meaning something similar but very different in what it does. To use the words of our good friends Solar Professionals: “Can I start by saying that the creation of an ESA template is both very expensive and lengthy in duration. Multiple legal aspects have to be considered when drafting these contracts, from property law, banking institution requirements, GST impacts, numerous funding and system requirements not the mention standard consumer law principals and all the requirements from the AER.” We include this to let you know what is needed is complex and has a very detailed need.

So what started off as a wax lyrical presentation, now shaped the focus on what (watt) can really hurt you – electricity! We guess once the carbon tax is gone, another way to tax will follow! Lets us be a little devil – they might impose a transport tax on delivering you energy? Well it makes sense – they make the electrons cheaper but now the transport cost is fairer?

On that matter of the Carbon Price our politicians are saying they will force the ‘energy companies to pass on the savings’. Did you know the majority of your Carbon Price is blended into your network charges? It is not transparent. The energy retailers cannot unbundle what the network companies levy you. Maybe the politicians need an education too! Yeah, that has appeal – Politicians ESA 101. Or more correctly they might prefer: The tax is dead, long live the tax!

 

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