Tales From The Customer Frontline: How Rocco Was Burned By Feed-in Tariff/Hot Water Rules, And Won

Solar feed-in tariff and hot water rules

Rocco was burned by rules saying he could not have a solar feed-in-tariff AND off-peak hot water.

Updated with comment from United Energy: A tale brought to our attention by reader Rocco is a handy reminder customers and retailers need to read the fine print of their solar feed-in-tariff contracts – and also brought to our attention how complex wholesaler and retailer rules can get.

Rocco first related his experience briefly in this comment back in January, which we didn’t notice at the time.

The article was a review of a hot water power diverter unit by Catch Power:

“In October 2018 we installed a 4 kw solar system (in Melbourne) and was repeatedly told by AGL to leave the HWS on at night in order to take advantage of the reduced controlled load rates,” Rocco wrote. “It was stipulated FIT would be $0.117 and controlled load $0.19. Hence no great saving in having the HWS run off the solar panels during the day.

 

“However AGL failed to check that the distributor (United Energy) does not allow for FIT and controlled load (it is one or the other) and when the smart meter was reconfigured they even forgot to mention this to us. Consequently we have not knowingly paid full price of $0.29 for the HWS that continues to run at night without controlled load. The ongoing case has been referred to the Energy Ombudsman with AGL continuing to be extremely difficult!!

 

“That said I would assume a HWS dumb timer or even smarter diverter would be cost effective considering the FIT is $0.117 and there is no controlled load discount but rather a standard price of $0.29. Has anyone else experienced anything like this?”

Later, Rocco returned to post that with the intervention of the Energy Ombudsman he’d been able to get the situation resolved and get a Catch diverter from AGL – but we still felt it was worth finding out more about what went on.

The Devil In The Detail

The pothole that tripped AGL and Rocco is in United Energy’s pricing regulatory filing – the most recent is in this PDF.

You have to scroll down to page 33 to find the crucial detail, and the ordinary customer probably wouldn’t realise at first glance that the “Dedicated Circuit” tariff is referring to off-peak hot water services – and means the statement:

“This tariff is not available to new customers with embedded generation or existing customers that install embedded generation”

..might also escape their notice.

So we went back to Rocco for more detail, and here’s what he told us:

He had started looking into a solar power installation back when AGL was still offering retail solar deals, and it was in consultation with AGL he decided to use solar energy for everything but the hot water service. The HWS would stay on the off-peak connection and solar electricity would handle everything else; with a feed-in tariff when there was excess power.

AGL exited retail solar installations, so Rocco forged ahead on his own, choosing a 4kW solar power system via Solar Quotes.

At that point, he asked AGL for “contract prices for the FiT, controlled load and standard rates”.

So far, so good – it was only later that the problem emerged:

“we received our first electricity invoice and noticed the controlled load rates had disappeared. We initially approached AGL whom had no idea but then confirmed it was no longer available and to contact the wholesaler United Energy for additional information. It was here for the first time they confirmed the consumer could not have both the FiT and controlled load. Not happy!!”

With the intervention of the Energy Ombudsman, Rocco persuaded AGL to provide the Catch Power diverter (which he read about here on Solar Quotes) as compensation for the error.

That’s all good, but he’s still unhappy with United Energy, which never explained why it excludes solar feed-in tariff deals from customers with off-peak hot water.

That’s a question worth asking – after all, it was just a couple of weeks ago that SA Power Networks told a Clean Energy Council webinar it’s trying to change customer off-peak habits to reflect the new reality, that the biggest electricity surplus in today’s world is in the middle of a springtime day.

We’ve contacted United Energy about this, and will add any response to this post.

Lack Of Transparency

Rocco’s experience brought into sharp relief a clear lack of transparency in the wider industry – it’s not easy to get through the opaque jargon of tariff documents to an easy “yes/no” about which tariffs exclude each other.

To read the United Energy “LVDED” Dedicated Circuit tariff, for example, you have to scroll back through the document to read the LVS1R and LVM1R tariffs.

I also looked over tariff documents from Evo Energy (here) and Endeavour Energy (here), and in neither case is it easy for an outsider to work out whether or not off-peak tariffs exclude each other.

It’s unfair to pick on these three providers – United, Evo and Endeavour – but a full survey of wholesaler tariff documents would take weeks.

We’d be interested to hear what readers have to say about the exclusions – have you experienced it with other providers? Have you been given a good enough explanation for how the rules were made?

Updated: United Energy’s Response

Yesterday afternoon, we received a comment from United Energy, which said: “Customers with a solar feed-in tariff are able to access our time-of-use tariff that provides off-peak rates for hot water systems. We would encourage customers to speak with their retailers about what the best option for them is.”

So it would seem United Energy is saying Rocco’s problem stemmed from a retailer putting him on the wrong tariff.

About Richard Chirgwin

Richard Chirgwin is a journalist with more than 30 years' experience covering a wide range of technology topics, including electronics, telecommunications, computing and science.

Comments

  1. Ausgrid – Newcastle
    AGL Currently (11.1c/kWh FIT) But Switching to Origin for better FIT(21c.kWh)
    A total of 5.19kW Solar Currently Installed
    CL1 – Night time off peak (AGL =10.6c.kWh, Origin – 16.324c.kWh)

    Changing as AGL ‘Benefit period’ is ending and they want to increase my rates.

    No issues with having both CL & Solar FIT… but it is interesting to know that there could be issues outside this Network.

  2. Customer has an agreement with AGL that specify rates, etc. What has this got to do with United Energy anyway? That’s an issue between AGL and UE to solve.

    I’m with AGL and energy provided by SA Power Networks. I have Off peak and Solar and it does not affect my FiT or Off peak rate which runs at night.

    I would go straight to the Ombudsman too if they tried that sort of thing on.

    • Well said, Stewart. Surely if AGL advertises and offers a tariff – and does not explicitly state “This tariff is not available to customers served by United Energy”, then AGL should be forced to charge only the fees that it has advertised and for which the customer has contracted?

      It would be interesting to hear a legal opinion, if any LLBs are viewers

  3. Bob Johnson says

    Like Rocco I chose the HW on night rate (T31) and went with AGL in SE QLD. The rate I got for the FIT (.20/kWh) was from phoning them and seems different from their website. Here is the bill for the last 31 days with a 6.3kW solar system-
    New charges and credits.
    Usage and supply charges Units Price Amount
    General Usage 108kWh $0.255 $27.54
    Tariff 31 Controlled Load 148kWh $0.168 $24.86
    Supply charge 31 days $0.99 $30.69
    CL31 Supply Charge 31 days $0.03 $0.93
    Solar metering Service Charge 31 days $0.07 $2.17
    Total charges +$86.19
    Credits
    Feed-in Tariff* 606kWh $0.2 $121.20cr
    Total credits – $121.20cr
    Total new charges and credits = $35.01cr
    Total GST + $8.62

    Note-
    1. that even with GST added the T31 is ..1848, almost 10% less than the solar FIT so it is cheaper to NOT use solar for the HW!
    2.this is mid winter so solar credit should be much higher for the rest of the year (I upgraded the system in January).
    3. Seems you have to contact the retailer to get the best rate. This is AGL Solar Savers.
    4. If anybody has a better rate for this area, let me know.
    5. Website prices are often confusing and unfair.
    Bob

  4. Controlled load requires separate metering from regular grid imports as does solar PV exports.

    I can only assume that if distributors install only one “smart” meter and it can’t meter three different things at the same time (i.e. grid import, solar export and controlled load), then you are forced to choose to use the second data “channel” to measure either solar export or a controlled load (since of course they will always use one channel to measure regular grid import).

    Hence in this situation the only way to get lower rates for HW is via off-peak timer and be on a TOU plan or via solar PV diversion (and forego FIT income).

    In my distribution area, controlled loads are permitted along with solar PV export and this is done by installing two meters, one for grid import/export and a separate smart meter for controlled load.

    I think, along with a raft of questions to have answered while doing a solar installation quoting process and assessment of the likely financial returns, it’s necessary to do a validation of the metering and tariff restrictions which apply in your distribution area.

  5. If the Electricity provider is installing the Meter as per the new rules that came in on Nov 2017 then if the house already had Off-peak meter and time of operation then the Electricity provider would be responsible for this and/or the Solar installer if they made the arrangements.

    Even if the customer had a plan that did not include Off-peak I would still expect a Peak, Off Peak and Solar meter to be installed if it already had an Off peak meter and timer.

    This rule where the electricity provider supplies and installs the new meter is crazy IMO.

  6. My 8 year old panels died. Got a retail solar man in. His advise. AS I lose my 55 cent fit. And we are needing a lot more power we go from a 1.5 unit to an 8 kWh. I am now producing 50 kWh per day. What they advised and we have done. We have a huge hot water cylinder. It’s now on a timer turns power off at night and is heated by Solar during the day. If no power produced for anytime I can just turn on to power. The new solar system cost me $6000. .Will report in a few months. Ron B

  7. Dan Phillips says

    I’ve been through just this situation recently where it wasn’t made clear I would lose my controlled load circuit until I had already installed solar and was awaiting the grid ‘connection’.

    Not only that I was charged $500 to have my two smart meters removed and replaced with one meter – even though my peak meter was capable of metering both consumption and production, and my off peak meter was on a separate phase. All due to United Energy’s distribution rules.

    Now I pay twice as much for off peak energy and twice as much for peak energy, but I earn $0.50 a day in FIT so that’s ok then!…

    Now I’m waiting for the weather to pick up to see if my bills will be lower with solar than without. I have electric storage hot water as gas is not available here – moving to heat pump HWS for $4,000 isn’t an option right now.

    • Something sounds very, very wrong here Dan. Did you contact the retailer and complain? Contact the Energy Ombudsman and tell them what the issue is. Include dates and times and if you have transcripts of online chat sessions include those too.

      The retailer will be compelled to deal with the issue. At worst even if you get nowhere they will probably lose more money than what they managed to get from you because they need to pay staff and possibly other fees in regards the Ombudsman case.

      Enjoy!

    • Steve jacobson says

      Hi Stewart, i would like to bring to your attention a new solar hot water tank, designed in australia.
      Solinta m270. uses induction heating technology and they have had units in field testing for over three years.
      google Solinta and have a look.
      The tank uses both ac and dc power and stores water at 75 deg Celcius.
      cheers
      Steve jacobson

  8. David Morgan says

    We were told by United Energy that government regulations prohibit both feed in and off peak, and by Tango that it was possible with all other distributors.

  9. Ausnet Services is the distributor for some parts of Victoria and have a clause that mandates you change to a Time of Use (TOU) tariff when you install solar. The TOU fee structure brings on what amounted to almost double priced energy with my retailer – just for having solar. Someone along the lines suggested that it was to try to encourage customers to use energy out of peak but that really does mean after 11pm at night, when ‘normal’ people might sleep. This is punitive but probably actually just aligning the system perfectly so that all the solar generation just becomes free money for the distributors when critical mass is reached. I’m being penalised for reducing emissions.

    The ombudsman wouldn’t have a bar of the fight with the distributor as it’s the retailer who has a contract with the consumer. This means they aren’t willing to really tackle the energy industry where it matters.

    It’s the big end of town that has the lobbying capability and without some good leadership this energy mess will just continue.

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