Energy Businesses Directed To Protect Households And Small Business

Australian energy businesses and COVID-10

On Friday, the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) outlined its expectations for energy retailers and networks during the COVID-19 pandemic, stating they must “go above and beyond” to support customers.

The AER regulates electricity networks and covered gas pipelines in all jurisdictions across Australia except in WA. Among its responsibilities are enforcing laws associated with the National Electricity Market (NEM), monitoring and reporting on market participant conduct and competition effectiveness.

The Statement Of Expectations published Friday sets out ten principles the AER expects adherence to during this time, to the maximum extent possible. Key points:

  • Energy retailers are to offer payment plans or hardship arrangements to all residential and small business customers indicating financial stress, whether or not that customer meets usual criteria for assistance.
  • There is to be no disconnection of any residential or small business customer in financial stress (unless it’s with their agreement) before 31 July 2020  – and potentially beyond that date.
  • Referrals of customers to debt collection agencies for recovery action or credit default listing must be deferred until at least 31 July 2020.
  • The waiving of disconnection, reconnection and/or contract break fees for small businesses that have ceased operation, along with daily supply charges to retailers, during any period of disconnection until at least 31 July 2020.
  • Clear, up-to-date communications with customers is to be prioritised and planned outages for critical works minimised.

“People enter into a contract when they sign up with an energy retailer,” said AER Chair Clare Savage. “But businesses also have a deal, a social contract, with the community in which they operate. At a time like this, it is vital they remember their broader social obligations”.

These expectations don’t mean Australian households and businesses can just stop paying their energy bills and the AER is not calling for an amnesty on bill payments – after all, energy businesses need to be able to stay in business too.

More Action Needed By Energy Companies – Taylor

Commenting on the AER’s release, Federal Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor stated several energy companies have already taken some steps to assist customers under financial stress, but during the Morrison Government expects more action.

“We expect energy companies to look after their customers, keep them connected and waive additional fees and charges for those doing it tough,” said Minister Taylor on Friday in a joint release with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. “We expect them to do more to help small businesses who have gone into hibernation to avoid any energy costs, and we expect them to pass on the huge price drops we are seeing in the wholesale market.”

Ministers Taylor and Frydenberg said the Morrison Government will be closely monitoring retailer and network compliance with AER’s measures.

Other Energy Related Assistance For Business

For businesses in a position to do so, now is a very good time to consider commercial solar given the relevant financial stimulus measures announced earlier this month that SQ’s Ronald has explained here.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

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