West Australia energy retailer Synergy has triggered protests from consumers after admitting that premiums paid for environmental products have not been invested in its home state – for the last five years.
This comes as the RET Review panel recommended moves that would put green power schemes across the country in doubt by removing their “additionally” to the renewable energy target.
Synergy earlier this month wrote to consumers informing them that it had not been able to find a suitable carbon offset or green energy scheme in its home market since 2008.
Instead, it had invested the millions collected from schemes such as “Earthfriendly” into programs in the eastern states.
Consumers have been shocked to learn their money has been spent elsewhere, and that it took Synergy years to inform them what it was doing.
“I’ve been happily paying the Earthfriendly premium with the expectation that this would support development of renewable energy in WA. Clearly that’s not been happening,” said Barbara Frey, from the city of Mandurah to the south of Perth.
“I’m furious about this. Like me, the majority of West Australians love renewable energy; no surprise that Mandurah was in the top 5 suburbs in Australia with the most solar PV.
“The attraction of investing in the Earthfriendly program was the opportunity to contribute to a clean energy future for WA. That future is here now, yet Synergy tells me that they’ve been spending my premium elsewhere…. since 2010.
“Don’t they get it? People like me want to invest in renewable energy, and recognise that part of the cost of transition involves retiring assets that no longer serve the wellbeing and interests of the community. How hard does it have to be?”
Another Mandurah resident, Jenny Currell, said she had been paying a 4.5618c per kWh ‘Natural Power Premium’ that was supposedly ensuring that the power that she was purchasing was being generated from renewable sources.
“I think an investigation into where this money is going is now in order. In WA we cannot vote with our feet and change suppliers – there is no choice for residential supply.”
A spokesman for Synergy issued this statement in response to RenewEconomy’s questions about why this was so, how many customers were affected, and how much mony had been paid into the scheme.
“Synergy has actively investigated the opportunity to support a number of WA-based projects, however due to availability and price, EarthFriendly units were needed to be sourced from other areas within Australia. There have been approximately 1,000 customers that have purchased Earth Friendly since 2010, and approximately 500 customers remain on the product.
“Earth Friendly is unrelated to NaturalPower, however, despite not being obliged to, since 2006 Synergy has sourced the majority of NaturalPower & EasyGreen – related RECs directly from WA.
“Information relating to the amount collected from individual Earth Friendly customers and how much has been invested into individual projects is commercial in confidence.”
As it is, the future of GreenPower schemes in Australia is not good, with the RET Review panel recommending that it be absorbed into the renewable energy target, meaning that voluntary commitments to green power would no longer be “additional” – it would just lessen the burden on fossil fuel generators.
There are 570,000 GreenPower households and 32,500 businesses in Australia. WWF noted that under the closed to new entrants option GreenPower would be stuck – they’d have to come up with a whole new compliance system to create some sort of additional certificates.
And under a real 20% like option, the Warburton review has failed to back GreenPower being additional to the legislated target. The approach set out in appendix D of the report would see the LRET target reduced by any amount of GreenPower generated.
As the report says: “Including renewable electricity supplied under such schemes would more accurately represent the share of renewables in Australian electricity. However, its inclusion in setting a 2020 LRET target to achieve a particular percentage share for renewables would undermine the ‘additionality’ objective of these schemes.”
WWF said it created an uncertain future for a program that is important for consumer choice and renewable energy.