The facts they say: About the poles and wires selloff.

The facts they say: About the poles and wires selloff. Revenue is a weird thing and it is all about your plan. That is short term gain verses long term revenue. What can get missed on that point is what is changing around you can be a bigger factor than the emotion around the change. That factor is technology and the transition strategy to survive – to survive you need to transform how you do your business or get pushed aside. The other issue is not only the technology challenging you it is the skill required to understanding how to take the opportunity to exploit the rise of the technology. These comments are as important for Energy Network companies as they are for banks, the financial services industry, sales, commodities traders, agribusiness and manufacturing. Dare we also say, political response, too.

One group we know of, http://www.solarcitizens.org.au has been active in seeking “to change the game”. They are referring to the practices and the behaviour of companies that run electricity networks. They are targeting those that control how we get our electricity and are encouraging concerned parties to participate, by way of a submission into the Australian Senate Inquiry, and submissions closed 18 December 2014.

The Senate is looking to spotlight whether it is fair that power prices have surged across the board in Australia. Whether it is because of the unnecessary upgrades to the electricity network, known as ‘gold-plating’ of the grid. What is being investigated, and you can see the full terms of reference for the Senate Inquiry here:

  • Whether energy companies have misrepresented information to the energy regulator for their benefit
  • Allegations of price rorting by companies
  • Whether current network arrangements discriminate against homes and businesses who generate their own power, and
  • The possibility of establishing an independent body to investigate and prosecute poor behaviour.

Those that say the plan to sell off the poles and wires claim privatization leads to higher prices, reliability of supply declines, maintenance is avoided with disastrous consequences, and what could the most persuasive of all: Once it is sold that revenue source is gone!

Then we read ABC News 21 December 2014 the story headed New Tas energy plan will drive down power prices: Government.

“A new energy plan for Tasmania will result in lower power prices, the state’s Energy Minister says.

The Government is inviting Tasmanians to have their say on its new draft energy strategy.” Public submissions are open until mid-February.

This is said to be an opportunity to attract new business to Tasmania and for better ways to utilise the state’s existing energy assets.

They also moot the possibility of a second Bass Strait to the mainland interconnector and expanding their hydro generation output by 10 per cent.

They also quote the Energy Minister Matthew Groom:

“This is about a mindset shift, this is about recognising that the energy businesses are primarily there to deliver energy advantage to Tasmanians, and central to that will be the lowest possible power prices that are genuinely sustainable……………..We saw power prices increase by more than 65 per cent over seven years……..That’s unacceptable and under this new strategic direction, it cannot happen again.”

The strategy includes more work on encouraging competition, with the Government still open to selling Aurora Energy’s customer book.

We should say the truly progressive part is the commitment to investigate the potential of using forest residue for biofuel.

CO2Land org has empathy with the cause. That said we should realize the poles and wires (Electricity Networks), historically are a 130 plus years old system. Some did not have the network system for some times after that, and some still do not have access. It also follows that regulators and those consulting to the companies were constantly expecting continuous load growth on the network. The evidence is that is not now happening and predictions are it is now a very different market. In our opinion anything that can be gamed is a market and will be treated as a commodity by the players. The selloff of the networks is evidence also that the predominately state owned utility companies want to divest themselves of ‘services’ and the new owners will have the reign to treat all as a commodity. If you do not believe us – think of the new rules coming into play referring to ‘Cost reflective’ for network charges.

Are the rules setters correct? One argument that has gone for some time – at least since 1996 that we are aware of, is the fairness of cross subsidies within the networks charges being to transfer cost burdens from the sparse population region to the concentrated population region (country and city users). If you think of what the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) is saying and the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) is saying it now it is enough it must change. Where it gets ugly is when you ask is the issue a question of to whom is the favour for – Business as usual and the rent seekers, or those that are bold and go forth with the transition to change.

Again, that all leads to the need to develop new business models and that need will be regardless for the reasons we started in para 1 of this discussion – the factor of technology.

A very likely model is that energy networks will adapt and change, and part of our believe of this is there will still be a need for some form of infrastructure to deliver the power. It will not matter is it is micro grid or long runs of poles and wires. The infrastructure will have new build, maintenance and upgrade needs. And, who pays? You do no matter what is the model.

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Fairly unfair – Energy Network price setting

Gold plated networks practice stopped, and cost reflective price setting will be the market policy. Yes, prices will rise. However prices will be controlled in a fair way it is said. It is an interesting game and thinking about it you realise it is ‘business as usual’ with an appropriate spin for self fulfilling prophesies. Actually it could be prophecies as it depends on if you are using the term as a verb or noun. For instance whether you are forewarning of significant price increases with callous regard to the customer, or anticipating being able to inspire the process of one or more messages that have to be communicated on behalf of the ‘good’.

Previously Co2land org wrote that the question that is most difficult is are you pro-business or pro-market. We have found a new term for the customer as a position description ‘pro-sumer’, and the position is the customer must be the one that willingly pays. We won’t bore you with theories of elastic and inelastic demand as this is a supply side argument. However, we might suggest you develop an instinct that identifies what can be summed as – ‘The rustling of the leaves tells a story, warns of a danger, and a lot of … is going on’. Beware you might not like what you see and the problems are in the detail. So what is the story behind it all?

The story is the players displaying how they justify the costs of reliability of supply. It is not about balancing the supply and demand for more efficient and reliable source of supply. A little more explanation please we hear you say. The business and the market of the energy supply is a supply side focus. That is why the energy companies are called, in the rules, the supplier, and where the customer might curtail or offer low volume generation into the supply is called the provider. Where the customer consumes they are called the user, or more recently termed the ‘pro-sumer’ where they make smart choices. All very simple is it not!

It remains at issue is your network charges will rise regardless.

The questions are how much and why is the political term ‘gold plated’ being used to substitute for what was called redundancy in the past – In this case we explain: “Redundancy is the duplication of critical components or functions of a system with the intention of increasing reliability of the system, usually in …” Source en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redundancy_(engineering).

The remainder of the story uses other sources as follows: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/actewagl-says-power-supply-in-canberra-at-risk-20141127-11uyv7.html

, and

http://www.goulburnpost.com.au/story/2726997/australian-energy-regulator-clamps-down-on-network-charges/?cs=12

, and

http://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/regulator-slaps-down-networks-on-more-attempted-gold-plating-22048. Also AEMC paves way for changes in network pricing for solar, air-con.

The network view:

ActewAGL: Chief executive officer Michael Costello says the draft decision from the Australian Energy Regulator does not make sense, and could lead to catastrophic failure.

“We not objecting to a reduction in price, …What we are objecting to is the degree of the reduction, and the fact it threatens reliability, stability and, if it does go far enough, the safety of the network.”

Energy Networks Association head John Bradley said the “unsustainable” spending cuts could compromise reliability, safety and efficiency outcomes for customers. “If implemented, these funding cuts put at risk key consumer outcomes relating to safety, maintenance and outage response times,…Consumers end up paying more under this kind of ‘roller-coaster’ regulation where underspending is followed by higher cost catch-up spending and political intervention.”

The Regulatory View:

Australian Energy Regulator (AER) chair Paula Conboy says under new rules the regulator’s focus is squarely on outcomes for energy consumers, for a safe and reliable network. “So we have to ask ourselves, why should customers be required to pay more?….. Our draft decisions propose lower allowed revenues for transferring electricity and gas, which, if implemented, should result in lower energy bills for end users in the ACT and NSW,… These reductions would be followed by small increases in each of the three subsequent years [in line with the yearly Consumer Price Index]…. Network charges on bills have inflated with extravagant spending – or gold-plating on poles and wires – in recent years and now account for 50 per cent of an energy bill issued to NSW users.”

RenewEconomy asked Conboy if the network revenue application were simply a case of them prosecuting “business as usual” rather than the transformation – the “prosumer revolution” – identified by new AER chief executive Michelle Groves, the chief executive of the AER.

Groves said last month:  “The electricity industry certainly is changing. In fact it is not much of a stretch to say that the next couple of decades will witness something of a revolution in the way small customers interact with the electricity industry. In the future there will be more scope for even the smallest energy users to become active participants in the energy market.”

Conboy said we would have to ask the networks if they were focused on business as usual.

In a separate announcement, the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) said new pricing rules will begin on December 1.

“By having prices that reflect the costs of different patterns of consumption, we are giving consumers clearer choices as we develop a more efficient, incentive-based network regulation framework,” AEMC Chairman John Pierce said .

The Users View: Large, SME, Domestic Advocates.

Gabrielle Kuiper, senior policy officer at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said the AER’s draft decisions were welcome news to the increasing number of NSW families struggling to stay on top of soaring energy costs. Dr Kuiper also said there was room for improvement in regards to the allowed rate of return – the forecast of the cost of funds a network business requires to attract investment in the network.

Oliver Derum, another senior policy officer at the advocacy centre, said energy prices could drop even further if the NSW government before the proposed lease of the networks writes down previous over-investment by the networks. “That could cut bills further by hundreds of dollars a year. We would urge the NSW government to consider this option as part of the sale process,” he said.

The Parkinson Report says (Giles Parkinson that is), “The draft rulings are part of a big game between the networks and the regulators over how much they can spend on upgrades, charge for maintenance, and for the cost of capital. The networks have a history of asking too much, and while the AER has sought to cut them down in the past, they have often been over-ruled, or forced to compromise on appeal.

(The AER decides how big the revenue pie will be for the networks. In an associated decision, the Australian Energy Market Operator has confirmed new rules that will require networks to introduce “cost reflective” tariffs, which will likely mean higher fixed and/or demand charges, which could affect households with solar arrays)… Hence the focus on this new round, particularly in light of the incursion of solar and battery storage into the grid, and the emergence of a new decentralised energy model. The AER, in its draft decisions, said that its estimate should result in a lowering of electricity costs, rather than a rise if the networks were allowed to have their way”.

Co2Land org review:

It all looks too much like they want your energy supply to be viewed as a commodity attached to a financial service. You see a commodity price can be manipulated as a means of control. If you lose control the networks cannot keep the growth numbers where they want them – ‘business as usual’.

Look further at the network lobby group, the Energy Networks Association, which has never conceded gold plating in the past, wants solar incentives reduced, higher fixed charges to consumers, and argued that it would be too expensive to quit the grid, said the AER ruling threatened the reliability of the network – an old favourite of those arguing against carbon prices, renewable energy, or any much change at all.

Reneweconomy says solar households face inevitable changes to the way their bills are packaged after the Australian Energy Market Commission delivered new rules which will require networks to impose “cost reflective” pricing on networks.

According to the AEMC, the changes will not only cater better to different patterns of consumption, they will benefit all consumers in the longer term as lower peak demand reduces the need for spending on infrastructure, and they will likely result in changes in tariffs to encourage households to avoid switching everything on at peak times, or at least pay for the privilege, and also for solar households. It could, for instance, encourage more homes to install west-facing panels rather than north-facing panels, but the final tariffs will be up to the networks to decide.

Reneweconomy goes on the say: In effect, while the Australian Energy Regulator decides how big a revenue pie the networks can eat – and based on today’s decision it is a lot smaller than last time – the AEMC is proving rules that decide how the networks can slice and dice that pie.

The new rules also affect households with air conditioning units, as the main targets of new tariffs aimed at recovering network revenue.

The arguments all centre on fears of the networks are losing market share, and are keen to get as much “network pricing” out of the pro-sumer as they can. The pricing set and recovered from different consumers, says the AEMC, with the key factor to determine how much consumers pay being their individual usage pattern or load profile.

The bit we love sic most “This rule change will not actually set new network prices – that is a role for the networks themselves and the AER. It does create a new requirement that reveals the cost of people’s energy choices,” AEMC’s Pierce said. Other AEMC quotes “Under these changes, we estimate around 70-80 per cent of consumers would have lower network charges in the medium term…Research undertaken since the draft rules were released for public consultation in August shows network prices are likely to be lower in the long run with cost-reflective prices,…

Research shows average residential charges could reduce by $28 to $145 per year. Households which use power at a steady rate through the day will receive the biggest benefits…Based on Victorian trials, we also found a small business could save up to $2,118 or 34% of its total annual electricity network charges by using less electricity at peak times for just 20 hours per year when networks are congested,…

Once the new rule commences on 1 December 2014 network businesses need to start consulting on their new tariffs and submit draft proposals to the AER in late 2015 for new prices that will start no later than 2017.”

Head spinning – it should be!

Our final word: We suggest it is because the term gold plated is different to redundancy in that the former highlights the risk of stranded assets.

What hurts more – dealing with energy contracts.

Measures or impacts – what hurts you more when you are dealing with energy contracts as a small, but described as large in National Electricity law, business? What factors affect your decision to enter into the contract? How do you stand up for your rights?

The first rule is do not expect consumer legislation to protect you! You may be surprised that energy regulations even circumvent your rights. For instance: The deemed provisions, and price during the contract period. Then consider the extraordinary fact the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) is on record as saying the equivalent of ‘caveat emptor’ – buyer beware is sufficient protection.

In the case of Energy Service Agreement, Retail Energy Agreement or simply Contract for Sale of Electricity (the description referred to by your retailer) you should realise you are without ‘warranty’. You see without a warranty the buyer takes the risk. The supplier or energy retailer takes no risk. In most cases this is true if you are a small (large business).

A series of recent brokering agreements by WIntelboff has highlighted to the client that this risk is critical. Even intervention strategies can be protracted and lack a feeling of satisfaction for the client. Most might even be frustrated because it is costly to fight, and if they qualified for the Ombudsman to investigate there is the risk they will be told ‘no, too difficult’, or the equivalent!

One client has penned her concerns in trying to get a fair contract, and we feel compelled to air them for her:

“On receipt of XXXXXX offer of renewal of electricity supply to the XXXXXXX XXX, the Manager, passed it on to me to “check out” as I had (and am still) involved with researching the power industry and finding ways and means of reducing our power bills.

The initial offer for three years from a numbers point of view looked like a vast improvement on what we are paying for Power from XXXXXX at present.

However on wading through the thirty odd pages of contractual agreement I realised that it was one of the most complex legal documents I had ever had to consider.

I recommended to XXXXX we ask the advice of the ‘crew’ who had been guiding us through installing Solar Power for the Business for two reasons….

They had a greater understanding of the Industry and what affected the retail electricity market…and I was concerned about the solar panel installation and other power reduction strategies affecting the tariff adversely with the 160Mwh factor

My concern that the fine print was mostly one way…to XXXXXX with no real guarantees built in to protect us from penalties..

Bottom line is…

In my personal opinion, XXXXXX’s business methods with this are appalling and amount to business bullying. Expecting a XXXXXXXX (requiring managerial and/or Board Approval) to make a decision with 2 weeks of receiving their renewal…AND…stating that the time could be extended…but didn’t when I requested it …. is tantamount to fraudulent behaviour.”

CO2Land org feels that a truly competitive industry would have adequate consumer protection, and you would expect where it was possible to lose customers you would be concerned about adverse behaviour. You would even expect a civil response to your queries – more than just the family phone message of ‘why we are great people’. Actually, when asking one retailer if it was possible to change a threshold provision – The actual response might surprise you – the 300 MWh pa + customer was told “you are too small a customer to influence us to adjust or amend our contract”!

It gets really scary at this point. They don’t care? Why you might ask. Some speculation could be: They might be selling short in the market. As such they can make more money from ‘double dipping’ than dealing with you. For the long sell retailer they might just offer fantastic prices to fill the books and just raise the prices later. The really scary thing is it is not just the raw energy prices at play here. It can also be environmental charges and some government fee liabilities.  

If you do not believe us – just read your contract very carefully. Some terms and conditions might be expressly stated, and some overtly say you are screwed.

CO2Land org is aware of only one retailer, at this time, that includes an undertaking to not rise prices for the contract with the exception of those mandated by government. Even then, you might be a little nervous when you realise the retailer is government owned! What if they mandate a change? What if they sell to a private company and the condition of sale says you can charge what you like – eh, you are deregulated? But better the bird in the hand as they say. At least if done wrong by Government you can vote them out eventually. Unfortunately, retailers in the mean time might just laugh and say how can you hurt me!

It is disappointing that tactics and marketing are used to make you believe they are doing it for you, when the deal is something else it is their insurance – not yours, and you are the one paying.

Stop Press – small *described as small, should ask for up to 17 % Discount on their bill. But what penalties take it all back again + more – that is for another post. In the mean time just remember to look at what you give up for the illusion of more!

 

Power of Choice – review by AEMC of DR

All community is affected by the rising cost of energy. Something can be done, and the “Power of Choice” review being run by the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) and a Senate Select Committee on Electricity Prices Inquiry is underway. Both these essential bodies need to be influenced and informed about how essential the implementation of and effective Demand Response (DR) is in the National Electricity Market (NEM) in saving $billions, and continuous saving thereafter.

Over the last 11 years there have been a number of Reviews that have made clear recommendations[1] that Demand Response (DR) should be implemented in our electricity markets.  Unfortunately, all these recommendations for implementation of DR have been ignored, with the exception of DR for Reserve Capacity in Western Australia’s Wholesale Electricity Market (WEM) which works very well.  In hindsight, the lack of an effective DR mechanism in the NEM in particular has cost electricity users an estimated Present Value (PV) of $15.8 Billion[2] (this is in the order of a 9% impost on their annual electricity bills).  Worse still this loss to the community is continuing to grow.

The “Power of Choice” Review is an unfinished work, and CO2Land org has experience in the material of Demand Response (DR). DR is most effective as a formal aggregation of small amounts of demand reduction from a larger electricity users who are contracted to reduce this pre-agreed amount of their demand at times when their are extreme wholesale prices, extreme peaks in demand or in emergencies.  It is much cheaper way to address these short term events than our current outdated approach of spending billions of dollars on more generators and networks which are only needed for a total of about 40 hours per year.

In the push for acceptance of DR becoming a part of the National Electricity Market (NEM) an article was written in the Daily Telegraph, 5 Sept 2012,  (link: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/power-shift-to-cut-household-bills/story-e6freuy9-1226465075377) after it was relayed some of the source contributions were gleaned from an EnerNOC sponsored report recently completed by CME.

CO2Land org and those mentioned in this post accept we look forward and hope the AEMC is now convinced that DR is essential to minimize further price rises.

If you are confused with the terminology, hopefully the following will help you better understand: The energy market has three components that affect the price we pay: Price response (PR), Demand Response (DR) and the Emergency response (ER).  Price is largely inelastic, and as we are experiencing alternative energy sources we notice the costs have similar or more Price effects to introduce them. Demand Response (DR) is the most volatile price driver in the market where smaller splices of time require a greater build and increase capital required for infrastructure projects (pole and wires builds and maintenance needs to cater for the demand growth). Emergency Response (ER) is an energy security problem and is reactionary to large events with little warning.

References to support this view are:

[1]

  • Alan Fels, Chair of ACCC, speaking at the Inaugural EUAA Conference on 19 November 2001
  • The Parer Review 2002 “Towards A Truly National And Efficient Energy Market”
  • The EUAA April 2004 “Trial of a Demand Side Response Facility for the National Electricity Market”
  • The ERIG Review November 2006 “Review of Energy Related Financial Markets”
  • Stages 1 & 2 of the Demand Side Participation Review (Stage 3 still in progress)

[2]