It’s obvious that the conservative state governments are joining with the Tony Abbott-led federal opposition to cause political pain to the Gillard government over the carbon tax. That’s why they are directing electricity retailers to show the tax as a separate item in your electricity bill. The NSW approach is to say in red: “NSW Government estimates that federal carbon tax and green energy schemes add about $315 a year to a typical 7MWh household bill – see ipart.nsw.gov.au.”
How deceptive. First off, you might like to know the exact amount according to the power use for the last quarter – but apparently the retailers said this was too much effort. So you’ll have $315 embedded in your mind whatever your power consumption. Secondly, no mention of the compensation that most households will receive – perhaps they could refer to an ‘average’ or link to the section of the IPART report that states it? No way – this is a propaganda exercise.
What they also won’t be showing is the real cause of the large power price rises, now and in the future. The carbon price and other green schemes (which are 10 per cent of the bill) will contribute much less to rising prices than new (and unnecessary) investment in the ‘poles and wires’ networks which are government-owned in NSW and Queensland. This is currently running at $15 billion per year, the largest proportion of it in NSW, and it will continue to increase for years after the one-off small impact of the carbon price. Network costs account for 40 per cent of your bill.
And under the National Electricity Market rules, the more the state-owned networks spend, the more revenue they earn, and the more they can pay in dividends to the NSW and Queensland governments. Over the past three years the networks have paid the NSW government over $500 million per year — money which comes out of consumers’ pockets – some of which could have easily been avoided by mainstream energy efficiency efforts. Is the government planning to also put this fact on household bills?
The misleading picture the states want to present fits well into a political campaign based on the position that a carbon price is unnecessary, but it should have no place in power bills nor should it inveigle the regulators.
Total Environment Centre has obtained advice from the Environmental Defenders Office that the federal government could use its powers under the Consumer Law (which is part of the Competition and Consumer Act, 2010) to stop this fiddling with our bills. The minister in charge of Competition Policy can gazette an ‘information standard’ for any product or service. Clearly he can set out how a power bill might show the various components objectively in contrast to a politically driven piece of quarterly advertising.
The power bill rort is running in tandem with a concerted attack on state-based climate change policies, because we will have a carbon price;, the federal renewable energy target (RET), and ‘green tape’.
Make no mistake – this is about turning back 17 years of advances on environment protection.
The conservative states expect Abbott to be elected and, having terminated their climate policies, have no intention of reinstating them when the federal coalition disbands the clean energy package and possibly the 20 per cent RET. And there is a good chance that the alternative climate policies under an Abbott-led government won’t transpire (due to budget cuts).
The result is an effective climate policy-free zone. As a consequence, citizen and environment movements will be operating much more outside the tent with governments and business in their sights.
Jeff Angel is executive director of Total Environment Centre – www.tec.org.au