Victorian smart meter roll-out put on hold

Consumer groups argue that the use of time-of-use pricing will disproportionately affect low income households

Victoria’s roll out of smart meters has been put on hold following lobbying from advocacy groups over concerns that the scheme’s time-of-use pricing model could adversely affect consumers.

The moratorium was put in place following a meeting yesterday between Victorian Energy and Resources Minister Peter Batchelor and representatives from the Utilities Advocacy Centre (CUAC), Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) and St Vincent de Paul.

Speaking to Computerworld Australia, St Vincent De Paul National Council Chief Executive, Dr John Falzon, said the organisation had called for a halt to the roll-out as it believed the use of time-of-use pricing could hurt aged pensioners, the unemployed and sole parents.

“The time-of-use pricing rang alarm bells for us as disadvantaged households – people who are stuck at home during the day - will be disproportionately negatively impacted by time-of-use pricing. They will be unable to alter their energy consumption patterns,” he said.

“The ongoing costs of the smart meters – not just the initial outlay and installation – will be something that will be passed on to households and that will also disproportionately affect low income household.”

Falzon said it was up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government (COAG) to develop a strong and uniform set of protections for low income households from the market impact of time-of-use pricing, as well as the potential negative impacts of the move toward the internationalisation of energy prices.

“Time-of-use pricing can be of enormous benefit to those who have the luxury of being able to change their energy consumption patterns – particularly those who are out at work during the peak [pricing] periods,” he said.

Expressing similar concerns, the Victorian Council of Social Service said it was imperative that the impacts of time-of-use pricing were investigated and measures be put in place to ensure low income and disadvantaged households were not made worse off under the smart meter scheme.

“We’re pleased the Victorian Government has recognised that the long-term unemployed, people with disabilities and older people, or those at home with small children might not get a better deal once the roll out of smart meters to millions of Victorian households is complete,” VCOSS chief executive Cath Smith said in a statement.

According to the Energy and Resources Minister, having a moratorium on the roll out of smart meters would allow the government to ensure that consumer protections would apply to the new electricity tariffs and that the costs of the roll-out and potential equity impacts of new tariff arrangements were properly considered.

The Victorian Government argues that time-of-use pricing will help households tackle climate change and monitor and control their energy use.

In February the Victorian Opposition also called for a halt to the roll out of smart meters accusing the Government of bungling the project.

In October last year Victorian electricity distributor, SP AusNet, said it would partner with 12 companies and utilise WiMAX technology to roll out 680,000 smart meters in the state over a three year period.

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Tags smart metersVictoriaUtilities Advocacy Centre (CUAC)St Vincent de PaulVictorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS)

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