The push by telecoms giant Telstra to challenge Australia’s big energy incumbents has cleared another hurdle, with Victoria’s Essential Services Commission approving it to sell gas and electricity to customers in the state – but under strict conditions.
In a statement on Thursday, Commission chair, Kate Symons, said the ESC would be keeping a close eye on Telstra’s compliance in the energy sector, given its “extensive history of non-compliance” in the telecommunications sector.
On this front, the ESC said that as a special condition of its licences, Telstra Energy would be required to establish a specialist team to handle all customer enquiries and complaints for its Victorian energy customers.
Further, Telstra would have to limit customer numbers for its first six months of retailing, while senior executives would be held directly accountable for any energy disconnections for non-payment and for reporting any breaches of the energy rules to the commission.
Symons said the special conditions for Tesltra Energy had been introduced after stakeholders expressed “significant concerns” about these matters during consultation on the licence applications.
The commission received 14 submissions from a range of interested stakeholders and held two roundtable discussions – including with members of the Victorian Aboriginal Executive Council and also with representatives from Victorian seniors’ organisations.
Symons said the commission decision had balanced the need to ensure effective protections for energy consumers with potential benefits that a number of stakeholders had also raised.
“We conducted consultation with these stakeholders over a six-week period and considered Telstra Energy’s response to this feedback,” Symons said.
Telstra Energy must also comply with Victoria’s comprehensive customer protection framework, including requirements to assist customers who have trouble paying their energy bills, customers affected by family violence and customers who need life support equipment.
An independent review of Telstra Energy’s compliance with Victoria’s energy laws will then be held after two and a half years, with the findings reported to the commission.
Elsewhere in Australia, Telstra was in November granted a licence to offer energy services to its millions of phone and internet customers in New South Wales, South East Queensland and South Australia.
The telco is just one of a number of big players keen to seize the opportunities from the disruption to traditional business models brought about by the switch to renewables and storage, and smart software.
“Our goal is to become a top 5 energy retailer by 2025, thereby contributing to Telstra’s overall T25 growth strategy,” said Telstra Energy executive Ben Burge in an emailed statement to RenewEconomy last month.
“We know the responsibility that comes with this and we are motivated to help Australian families save more money, waste less time and reduce their household’s carbon footprints; our energy plans will be 100% carbon neutral at no extra cost,” Burge said.
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