Switch it off

By Nasik Swami

Flick the switch off and save power.

It sounds obvious, but if you don’t get into the habit of saving energy, you might be digging deeper into your pocket to pay for energy bills in the coming months.

Spiralling energy costs are having a devastating impact on everyone in South Australia, especially those living and operating businesses in regional towns like Naracoorte.

A report by the Essential Services Commission of South Australia found that in the 12 months to the end of June, power bills had increased by up to 16.5 percent, equating to nearly $650, for small businesses across the state.

It also showed that the average South Australian household is paying up to $250 more.

Earlier this year, the Australian Energy Regulator announced that from July 1, electricity prices would increase between 20 and 25 percent for residential customers in South Australia, New South Wales, and south-east Queensland.

In its final default market offer (DMO) for the 2023–24 financial year, the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) released year-on-year electricity prices to increase between $439 and $512 for some South Australian households and $1310 for some small businesses.

This represents a price hike between 22.5 and 23.9 percent for households and 28.9 percent for businesses.

Many stakeholders and residents this newspaper spoke to are of the view that the power price needs to be brought down urgently, otherwise, it will continue to inflict pain on many families who are already dealing with the cost-of-living crisis.

Where’s the promise?

Shadow Assistant Minister for Regional South Australia and Member of the Legislative Council Ben Hood believes the increased costs are having a devastating impact on rural South Australians.

“When combined with rising interest rates, increased fuel costs, and hip-pocket pain at supermarket checkouts, there’s no one in the state that isn’t touched by this cost-of-living crisis,” Mr Hood said.

He said the state and federal Labor governments were elected off the back of promised electricity savings “but, as we all know, that is the opposite of what is taking place”.

“Instead, we have a state Labor government spending well over $600 million of taxpayers’ money on a world-first, experimental state-run hydrogen plant that they’ve admitted will do nothing to lower energy costs for consumers or businesses.

“And a federal Labor government that wants to build 10,000 km of high-voltage transmission lines in the next six years to reach an increasingly unrealistic 82 percent renewables target.

“Compensation for landowners who must house the poles and wires is estimated at $400,000 per kilometre and threatens prime agricultural land.”

Mr Hood said beyond providing energy bill relief to those already receiving concessions, the Malinauskas Government has no solutions to lower energy prices for working families and small businesses.”

Why are we paying so much?

In an interview, Shadow Minister for Energy Stephen Patterson said South Australians were currently enduring some of the highest energy price rises in the country.

“Working South Australian families are being hit hard by the current cost of living crisis under both the federal and state labor governments,” Mr Patterson said.

He claimed the Premier, Peter Malinauskas, had no plan at the election to ensure electricity supply was affordable and reliable, and now South Australian families and businesses are paying for it.

“The former Liberal Government saw a reduction in power prices for working South Australian families, however, under Peter Malinauskas, SA households and businesses are now experiencing the highest power price rises in the nation.

“Additionally, the Australian Energy Market Operator has warned that South Australia is again facing an increased risk of blackouts this summer,” he said.

Mr Patterson said South Australians were paying the highest prices for electricity in the country and, despite that, had the lowest grid reliability. They are being warned to brace for blackouts this summer.

“Peter Malinauskas constantly deflects responsibility for massive power bills by claiming it’s an east coast energy crisis. The Premier needs to get his priorities in order and admit that this is a South Australian crisis.

“Peter Malinauskas needs to prioritise energy affordability and reliability. South Australian families would be shocked that Peter Malinauskas is blowing more than $600 million of taxpayer money on an experimental hydrogen power plant that Labor has admitted won’t lower household bills.

“The energy transition is at such scale and complexity that all technologies need to be on the table, with a focus on reliable baseload power being critical.

“There must be more grid stability in the provision of electricity to South Australian households and small businesses.

“We will also start to see the grid stability benefits of the SA-NSW interconnector once that is up and running.

He said this will enable South Australia to send its excess renewable energy into the national electricity market and receive electricity from interstate sources when required.

Mr Patterson said it was unfortunate that many small businesses were closing in the region because of the increasing operating costs.

“Unfortunately, this is becoming more and more widespread across the state, especially in regional areas.

“The most recent Default Market Offer has the average small business power bill increasing by a massive 28.9 percent, which is the highest rise in the nation.

“There’s only so much a small business can cut back on to reduce costs, but turning off the power simply isn’t an option.”

Mr Patterson welcomed the recent announcement by the state government that up to 200,000 additional South Australian households will soon receive energy bill relief for the first time.

“The Opposition welcomed energy bill relief for some South Australians, however, many hardworking families with mortgages and children were overlooked,” he said.

“South Australian working families and small businesses are in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, and the Malinauskas Labor Government has no plan to reduce power bills.

“It is all well and good to hand out money, but that is unsustainable. If the government really wants to help struggling South Australians, they must bring power prices down.”

No response from the Premier

This newspaper asked the Premier: Can the state do anything to help ease electricity bills and cost of living pressures?

No response was received to this question. However, we were referred to a statement from the Treasurer, Stephen Mullighan, on the “record number of South Australian households to receive energy bill relief”.

Energy bill relief 

State Treasurer Stephen Mullighan outlined how the relief will work.

He said retailers will begin applying the $500 rebate to a new cohort of South Australians—those receiving Family Tax Benefits.

This is the first time Family Tax Benefits recipients will be eligible for energy bill relief. Others in the expanded cohort include people receiving a carer allowance and holders of certain Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) cards not currently eligible for the existing energy concession.

“The relief will be paid as a quarterly amount of $125, which will show up when their next bill is issued,” he said.

Mr Mullighan said Commonwealth Government Agency Services Australia has been contacting new eligible households directly for several weeks and inviting them to apply.

“Around 200,000 existing South Australian energy concession recipients are also eligible for relief, and these rebates are being applied to their bills automatically.

“Those households receiving both the state government concession and one-off rebate will save up to $763.15 in 2023–24.”

He said the Malinauskas government committed $127.2 million for the National Energy Bill Relief Plan, matched dollar for dollar by the Commonwealth.

“The Federal Government has committed up to $1.5 billion nationally for the plan. It’s anticipated that approximately 420,000 SA households could benefit, while up to 86,000 small businesses could receive rebates of $650.”

Mr Mullighan said eligible households may now see their energy bills drop by around 3.3 percent in 2023–24, or around 5.2 percent if they also receive the SA energy concession.

Naracoorte-Lucindale Council

Responding to questions from this newspaper, the council said any energy relief provided to members of the community by the state or federal governments will surely be appreciated.

“While the council understands and acknowledges that increased energy costs are affecting many South Australians, the responsibility for energy prices and markets and any assistance programs sit with the state and federal governments,” the council said in response.

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