Selling short in the energy market – symptom or disease

Have you ever suspected your Energy Company of gaming the rules? Consider this: A energy retailer in NSW has argued they can remain silent on an energy supply transfer and then penalise the customer with adjusted early termination fees. Small business is particularly vulnerable to this activity. Have you been affected? Speak up now.

We write this after a story recently ran that was commissioned by the St Vincent De Paul, 28 May 2014, ‘Energy Retailer not Adequately Disclosing Additional Fees’. It would seem some success has been the outcome. You may find similar matters very common for small business and the protection is less clear. It also follows that small business can be classified under the electricity rules as large when under company rule they are small business. The tactics of taking advantage of a customer is part of our story.

Consider the retailers argument: Section 6.10 AEMO rules prevent them objecting to Transfers in NSW. A wonderful twist that Tony the Weasel would be proud of for sure. What this retailer then did was objected to a ‘to the market to transfer DCL’ (Form called a CR1000) and then withdrew the objection. They then remained silent on their intention to levy the charge. In one instance we know of near $10,000 is the adjusted fee charged.

We find it difficult to think other than they are gaming the rules and defining as it suites them. They are embarking on ‘it may be immoral, but is not illegal’ game at the expense of a trust in what we say not what we do.

If you want more evidence consider that the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW (EWON) web site is showing up to 85% increase on complaints with energy retailers in 2013, benchmarked over 2012 figures. Just imagine what 2014 must have in store for the Ombudsman.

If we go back to the reference instance – it was claimed they broke a deemed supply agreement and fees are payable. The retailer then ignored requests for transparency of the charges and to explain how is was reasonable to claim so much money. The retailer even ignored that the new retailer offered to give back the customer without penalty to any party. It became obvious the old retailer only want the money and not the customer.

What is wrong with that – big business only says show me the money! We are all nothing but an asset.

Our frustration is such that when we looked for an explanation it seems most feasible that the retailer is actually short in the market for black energy. This term is where it is not renewable or green sources. In effect a panic that they are overexposed to the renewable market because of the current government sending out signals ‘old king coal’ will reign for some time. It follows that the amount of contracted energy into the future and the books determine the risk of that business. It would seem the retailer does not want you to consume black energy, nor do they want you to export renewable energy – you might notice if had considered putting in Solar Array, either covertly or overtly you might be discouraged.

If you accept this short sell idea you could consider the behaviour of finding reason to add fees to your exit is akin to double dipping. They want you to pay for what they do not have, or they have already sold it elsewhere. Possibly this matter should go before the AER, they are quoted as saying they have an eye on these sort of things.

If you check out the AER site and the government site www.energymadeeasy.gov.au you will notice they recommend you lay a complaint with the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW (EWON). If you do so you should definitely know your wants for any outcome.

One want we recommend you consider is consistent and effective communication is your right.

 

Inappropriate electricity tariffs – it will cost you!

Inappropriate electricity tariffs have the potential to cost excessive amounts of money for the unwary. In NSW for instance, the National Electricity Law (NSW) has gaps in it you can drive a truck through. Consider this: Energy Retailers might know you are paying too much for your network charges, and they take no action. The Energy Retailer can request a review of your charges, but apart from a newly introduced mandatory review period, may not provide this service. One retailer even provided proof in saying the do not have the systems in place to be proactive on behalf of the Customer. In other words it may be immoral, but it is not illegal to withhold the service. CO2Land org has written evidence that one NSW small business has claims of having been on an inappropriate network tariff and it costing them as much as 72% more than needed to pay – how much? Almost a quarter of a million dollars ($250,000)!

Another issue is that a deemed contract can exist whether you are aware or not, and it may be a simple communication error that costs you dearly. As a residential customer it may cost you up to $220 because you entered into a new Energy Service Agreement (ESA) and were not aware you were already contracted to another retailer. The charge is a break contract fee. It will not be transparent and a St Vincent De Paul commissioned report suggests it is also unreasonable.

A similar break fee event, that CO2Land org is aware of, involves a Commercial and Industrial (C&I) customer with an annual energy spends of approximately $50,000 pa. This small business was invoiced in excess of $10,000 (including government fees and charges) for breaking a deemed contract. In that invoice no attempt was made to show how the number was arrived at other than the words ‘to cover costs’ and a list of the government charges. The source of these two examples here is Wintelboff – www.wintelboff.com .

Possibly you should contact your favourite energy advisory and have them look at your bills?

Co2Land org is also aware that through the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and in conjunction with Carbon Training International (CTi) ‘Energy Management Basics Training for Business’ is available. The ‘plug’ is because they also offer to review your billing as part of the class exercise, and provide up to 15 hours of technical advice as part of the course.

We are also aware the NSW Business Chamber is offering discounts to its members of up to 19% if they use Energetics to participate in the Business Chamber’s ‘Better Energy Manager Program’.

Which of these groups is better? It really gets down to cost. The benefits are obvious if you are paying too much.

If we go back to the National Electricity Law (NSW) and the way it is framed – sounds like a Roger Rabbit episode! A quick read will make it clear the consumer advocacy part is weak. A large business must engage through a complex process for its matter to be heard. [As an aside a business can be classified as large if it has energy consumption greater than 160MWh pa. However, it may not be large under taxation and corporate laws]. If you need to go to court over your energy bills, the dispute resolution it will be classified along corporate laws. You could be excused for being confused! A course of dispute resolution is to go to the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW (EWON). What you should know is EWON is not a government-sponsored body – it is industry member sponsored. The body can also make the choice to be involved in disputes? They will make legally binding judgements, but they decide whether to be involved and you must have your wants clearly made and they must be for more than moral issues. They also have guidelines in the use of the body. Currently, you need to have an annual turnover of less than $2million, employ less that 20 people and be a family run business. Some variation to these guidelines are possible, but you might need to contact them if you have questions www.ewon.com.au .

If you did not know there is ‘spin’ that all this be fixed when the assets are sold? As it happens the poles and wires – the network companies in NSW are state government businesses. If the process is flawed you could expect a reasonable person asking why is it not fixed? The answer may be it is an inconvenient truth right now, we are trying to sell the companies!