Electricity Meter Upgrade Complaints Drop In South Australia

Electricity meter changeovers in South Australia

Image: rgaudet17

South Australia’s Energy & Water Ombudsman handled fewer complaints in 2019-20; including regarding issues relating to meter upgrades for solar power system installations.

The Ombudsman’s office released its 2019-20 Annual Report yesterday, which notes new rules and increased support since COVID-19 restrictions began in March slashed complaints generally by 19% for the year to June 2020.

“.. strong regulator and business action ensured additional support options for those who needed it. This advanced action appears to have resulted in reduced numbers of complaints to our Scheme,’ said Ombudsman Sandy Canale.

Solar Related Complaints

While overall Service Provision case numbers decreased by 39% in 2019-20 compared to the previous year, Solar PV Approval cases increased by 21%. That sounds like a rather drastic jump, but the number of cases rose from 24 to 29 – and tens of thousands of systems were installed in South Australia during the period. Still, if you were one of the 29 affected, it wouldn’t have been much fun. Complaints that get to the stage of reaching the Ombudsman mean things have gone very pear-shaped.

Meter upgrades associated with solar installations has been a significant ongoing bugbear.

The report notes:

“Solar meter case levels have remained steady throughout this year, in contrast to the trend of decreases for the majority of other sub-issue cases. Solar meter upgrade delay cases were still higher in June 2020 compared to June 2017 before metering competition was introduced.”

Metering competition reforms under the optimistic slogan of “Power Of Choice” wasn’t just a South Australian thing – it was across the National Electricity Market (NEM). Far from being a cure for what ailed us, it turned out to be an utter shitstorm in the early stages in relation to meter changeovers and obviously still has some way to go.

Comparing 2019-20 with 2018-19, I count 444 cases for the former and 775 for the latter in the report – so there was marked improvement on that aspect year-on-year, but again it wouldn’t have been a great time for those impacted and 444 is still a very high number.

A Complaint Case Study

There are also a couple of solar related case studies in the Ombudsman’s report. One concerns a solar owner who disputed his Autumn and Winter 2019 bills because they were unexpectedly higher than the bills for the same period in 2018 when his solar power system was not yet installed.

But it didn’t turn out there was a problem with the system or the Autumn and Winter 2019 bills – his electricity retailer *undercharged* 1,614 kilowatt-hours between June and August 2018. That would have been a nasty surprise for the complainant, but the story ends with the retailer not attempting (or being able) to claim for the undercharge, and also applying a $250 credit to the solar owner’s account as a gesture of goodwill for the inconvenience caused.

On a somewhat related note, pick up some tips for troubleshooting if you suspect your solar power system isn’t performing as it should.

Ombudsman Concern For New Energy Tech Consumers

Mr Canale said with an increasing number of consumers moving to new technology such as solar panels and home batteries and becoming customers of providers with new business models (e.g VPPs), this could leave them outside the protection of the Ombudsman.

“This could mean that some consumers no longer have access to current energy-specific legislative protections and may become more reliant on Australian Consumer Law to resolve disputes,” he stated.

Consideration is being given as to how the consumer protection framework could evolve.

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. This has been caused by poor training, mainly in the call centers, I still have customers being told that a REX Form A Must be filled out first & they could not get their meter changed till this was done, (That was done away with 3 years ago). Its the biggest headache I have to deal with DAILY.

  2. Des Scahill says

    Just to illustrate the general looming future for ‘fossil fuels’, a news article today on the ABC at :

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-13/synergy-to-get-more-than-$700m-in-subsidies-from-wa-taxpayers/12759034

    advises that Synergy, the WA energy utility, is going to receive some $700 million in subsides over the next 5 years from the WA State Government.

    The WA government confidently predicts that ‘reforms will see the utility back in the black’.

    This press release may be an unwitting Freudian slip ie – an allusion to the famous AC-DC hit ‘Back in Black’, which followed their earlier smash hit, ‘Highway to Hell’.

    ‘Back in Black’ was written in memory of lead singer Bon Scott who died following a binge on poisonous substances.

  3. Hi guys,

    I think one off the biggest reason for lower complaints is the presence of Vector in SA, whenever I have an issue I can jump onto the phone to Grant, he is locally based and understands the requirements, exceptional level of service from Vector which helps us provide a better service to our customers in regards to their meter upgrade. Vector team always willing to help and find solutions. I wish all retailers would have the option of picking Vector as AGL do.

    • Tyson Mead says

      Hey Adam,

      Definitely agree. We were in an absolute state trying to get things through just prior to meeting Grant. Honestly cannot speak highly enough of all he does and the can-do attitude of the team. I get the impression with some metering co-ordinators that the technicians would rather look for things that aren’t up to code allowing them to walk away from the job. Not Vector, they willingly work with our techs to ensure that things get done in a timely and professional manner.

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