AGL Coughs Up Cash For (Alleged) Faulty Meter Fix Failures

AGL penalties - electricity meter faults

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) announced yesterday three AGL retailers have paid penalties amounting to $160,000 for allegedly not fixing faulty electricity meters promptly.

On December 1, 2017, responsibility for electricity meters in the National Energy Market (NEM) switched from Distributed Network Service Providers (DNSPs) to electricity retailers. This change was a part of “Power of Choice” reforms put  in place by the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC).

Power of Choice was an absolute mess when originally rolled out, particularly in relation to getting new meters in place for households that had installed solar panels.

The situation did get better, but there’s still room for improvement on the solar front. For example, South Australia’s Energy & Water Ombudsman recently noted solar meter upgrade delay cases were still higher in June 2020 compared to June 2017 before metering competition was introduced.

Solar aside, it seems there are other meter related bottlenecks – including fixing faulty devices.

500+ Days From Faulty Meter Notification To Action

In this AGL situation involving eight cases, the AER alleges the company failed to promptly appoint dedicated metering coordinators to fix customers’ faulty meters.

“In some cases it took AGL more than 500 days to take action after being informed the meters were faulty,” states the Regulator.

The National Electricity Rules state that a responsible market participant (e.g. an electricity retailer) receiving a notice of a metering installation malfunction must “promptly” appoint a Metering Coordinator. There doesn’t appear a specific timeframe attached to “promptly”, but in anyone’s book 500 days wouldn’t qualify.

The following indicates the time from receiving notification of a faulty meter just to the time a metering coordinator was appointed in these cases:

  • ~ 4.5 months
  • ~ 6.5 months
  • ~13.5 months
  • ~ 10 months, 1 week
  • ~ 18 months, 1 week
  • ~ 9 months
  • ~ 4.5 months
  • ~ 4.5 months

The three AGL retailers (AGL) to have paid penalties

“If a meter is faulty, then retailers must ensure they are doing everything possible to ensure it is fixed promptly,” said AER Chair Clare Savage. “It is simply not good enough for customers to receive estimated bills because retailers do not have adequate systems and processes in place to ensure faulty meters were fixed as soon as possible.”

The AER notes it can issue an infringement notice where it has reasonable grounds to believe a business has breached National Electricity Rules where there is a civil penalty provision, but payment of infringement notices does not constitute an admission of liability. However, it does preclude the AER from taking any further action in relation to the alleged conduct.

If you’re having problems getting a faulty electricity meter fixed and can’t get the attention of your electricity retailer, try contacting the energy ombudsman in your state – but be sure to read any ombudsman guidelines before submitting a complaint.

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.

Comments

  1. The problem is the electrical retailers like to create their own interpretation of the rules.
    As the old meters when they go faulty or need to be upgraded for solar, the electrical retailers are now using their own brand meters, Unfortunately they feel that they only had to buy in one size of meter, and if that size does not fit the space the old meter was in, hard luck for you,, and I have had retailers advise customers in complexes that have multiple meters, that they will need to spend over $20.000 to enlarge the complex’s board if they want new meters put in,
    There are multiple small meters available off the shelf for around $100, and they refuse to buy them, customers have had to wait over 6 months for them to bother to buy in correct size meters.

    The same goes for the 15 day max time for them to change a meter,
    The ruling is 15 days from notification or from the install date, (which ever is the later) But the retailers say the 15 days starts after they have taken 7 days to get to your request and another week or 2 for them to get it onto their contracting teams,

  2. Hi Daryl,

    There is significant complexity associated with the industry. I am not here to defend any specific companies, but more highlight the challenges facing the industry as a whole.

    With respect to installing a meter, the following high level rules apply:

    1. It needs to meet the correct metering standards and have ‘pattern approval’ in Australia. This does rule out a lot of meters sold by electrical wholesalers and a lot of meters used in ‘sub-metering’ or consumption monitoring markets. So this rules out alot of cheaper meters that are not accurate or safe.

    2. All new meters installed since December 2017 must have remote communications enabled as part of the Power of Choice initiative. This of course adds cost to the device, the ones you are mentioning are probably without any communications capability.

    3. Around the size of the meter, this is also not simple. I believe that the industry’s best utility metering solutions have very small single phase meters that pretty much fits even the oldest metering boards. However, three phase installations are definitely more difficult. As part of Power of Choice, meters are required to have ‘Connect / Disconnect’ ability. This requires a lot more space in the meter than older ‘Non-Disconnect capable’ due to the size of the relays to perform the disconnect, but also enough space to ensure appropriate temperature rise in the meter to meet appropriate safety standards for the design. (i.e. enough space to dissipate heat, heat sink etc – these devices can have 100A running through them and because of the ‘relay switch’ there is resistance in this switch even when closed that generates heat) So in some instances, a larger metering panel / box is required.

    4. In terms of the metering panel / box at a house, this is a contentious issue. Who should pay for this? Is it the householder’s property or the utilities? Unfortunately the user pays model is what we have here.

    5. All of this does not excuse slow installation rates. The SLAs set are aggressive for installation, but they need to be met by the power companies, there should be no excuses there now that Power of Choice has been in place for quite some time.

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