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Solar panels may be ticket to cheaper power bill

11th Jul 2011

Households are set to be hit with increased power bills as rates increase in the new financial year.

The New South Wales government's Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) reported that electricity rates for residential customers are likely to increase by as much as 17.3 per cent. This equates to rate rises worth hundreds of dollars to the average suburban household.

This information comes as the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) chairman Andrew Reeves cited "over-investment in infrastructure" as one of the main factors influencing this latest increase in energy costs.

The addition of a carbon tax may increase rates further, as the majority of Australia's electricity needs are catered to by power plants using coal as a fuel source. This cost is likely to be passed on to the end consumer.

Chris Hartcher, the NSW energy minister, admitted that the increase in electricity rates would mean power bills might become "unaffordable" for households that have been straining to stay afloat financially.

The NSW government provides financial assistance for energy costs to people who are struggling to pay their bills. This support is made available in the form of $30 vouchers. These are distributed through charitable organisations such as St Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army.

Similar relief schemes are in operation throughout the rest of the country.

Aid services like these are temporary in nature, designed to ensure individuals and families have access to basic utilities during times of financial hardship. They are not intended to provide recipient households with long-term support. Nor are they likely to become widespread in use.

However, there is some good news for Australia's residential energy consumers. IPART is set to review a proposition that could help reduce household energy costs in the long term.

The proposed "aggregated net metering" scheme would allow households fitted with solar panels to measure the energy their systems returned to the grid and have that amount taken off their power bills.

The proposal was put forward by the Australian Solar Energy Society (AUSES) at a renewable energy summit held at Newcastle University earlier this month.

If put into effect, this scheme would equip individuals and families with an effective buffer against future rises in electricity rates in the coming years.

It could also prove to be a solid incentive for property owners who have yet to investigate the long-term benefits of the installing solar panels.

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