February 19, 2013  |  Second Reading

Energy Legislation Amendment (Flexible Pricing And Other Matters) Bill 2012

I am also pleased to speak on the Energy Legislation Amendment (Flexible Pricing and Other Matters) Bill 2012.

Clearly there is an opportunity for me to correct a few of the matters the previous speaker has tried to misrepresent to the house. We know, as we have heard from earlier speakers, that this bill does three things: it repeals electricity and gas industry cross-ownership restrictions; it addresses some regulatory inconsistencies in regard to the present management of the electricity and gas industries; and, the issue that is of most interest to Victorians, it makes amendments in relation to the scope of the advanced metering infrastructure — the smart meter infrastructure — by creating consumer protections ahead of the introduction of the flexible pricing opportunities that will be made available
from the middle of this year.

There has been much debate in relation to the rollout of advanced metering infrastructure — that is, smart meters. As the member for Mill Park identified, the present government, when in opposition, helped to misinform residents about smart meters.

Since smart metering has been rolled out I have had numerous calls from constituents who were confused about whether they needed to have their smart meters connected as part of the rollout, and about the effects of effects of smart metering — and in some instances they were concerned about the nature of the radio technology used in smart meters. Unfortunately confusion and misinformation has been spread by various sources across the community.

We need to make it perfectly clear that it was initially agreed at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) that smart meters would be rolled out across the country. Victoria, under the former government, agreed to support the rollout of smart meters, and moved accordingly.

What opportunities do smart meters present? They are the new technology in metering systems. This technology enables meters to be read remotely so as to provide information on a half-hourly basis from households to the electricity provider as well as back to the householder.

This means that the electricity provider can get regular information in relation to power usage and styles of usage within households so it can address demand in a way that ensures that power can be supplied and plans for future generation can match usage patterns, or it can perhaps influence usage patterns to try to reduce the need to produce so much power. It would clearly be of benefit to the community if we could get that peak usage down and thus did not need to build new power stations to meet that peak demand.

Smart meters provide all sorts of opportunities to save expenditure in electricity generation, but they also provide benefits to the householder, because through the smart metering system the householder will have the opportunity to adjust their power usage and gain the benefit of flexible charges. They could be charged at off-peak or shoulder-peak rates if they choose not to use power at peak periods. Clearly there are all sorts of opportunities for householders in terms of the rollout of this technology.

I would like to see us clearing up the confusion on this matter. Residents continue to ring my office and ask about this issue. When we explain it to them, most feel comfortable about having their smart meters connected. They say, ‘I see, this does make sense’, and get connected. However, there are others who believe smart meters have harmful health effects and have not been convinced otherwise. We have to keep working on them to provide the science that is available to convince them that smart meters are safe and that they provide overall benefits to the community. We need to get past that confusion.

In regard to the consumer protections offered by the bill, they generally mean that when flexible pricing becomes available from the middle of this year nobody will be converted to a flexible usage plan unless they specifically agree to that, and that if they are unhappy about the way the flexible charging plan works for them they can revert to the previous plan without being charged an administration fee if they do so before March 2015.

We on this side of the house are concerned that the bill is silent on other consumer protection issues that need to be addressed in regard to the ability of electricity providers…