Electricity Supply Amendment (Advanced Meters) Bill 2016
22nd March 2016
Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) [12.13 p.m.]: I make a brief contribution to debate on the Electricity Supply Amendment (Advanced Meters) Bill 2016. It sounds like a fairly dry topic but it is of great interest to anyone who is on the grid producing electricity through the solar photovoltaic [PV] systems as well as those who may be subsidising consumers who benefit from a feed-in tariff. I am pleased to support much of the bill but I have some concerns about it. I have listened to the debate and note that there is some argument and differentiation between the two sides of the House. The member for Maroubra, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, summed it up for me when he said there had been failings on both sides of politics in the regulation of the industry.
All members would agree that problems in the market, such as the costs involved in the electricity distribution industry during that period of gold plating of the network and its impact on the community, have resulted in the community feeling very confused about how the system works. The member for Davidson referred to the role of the Public Accounts Committee in reviewing these matters. I note that the member for Parramatta, who is at the table, was the deputy chair.
Dr Geoff Lee: A very capable one.
Mr GREG PIPER: A very capable one, I am sure. The committee spent some time examining this matter. It is a complex matter and I am not surprised that most people do not understand how it works. The member for Maroubra has been illuminated because he obviously has some understanding of the impacts of his solar PV system. His system was not part of the solar bonus scheme. I place on record that I, too, purchased a PV system and chose not to opt into the Solar Bonus Scheme. I have received somewhere between 6¢ and 8¢ for much of that period. I do have a net metering system. The Government has left it a little late to address this issue and there is now some urgency before the Solar Bonus Scheme finishes at the end of this year. Some 130,000 customers are on a gross feed-in system. If they joined early in the scheme—seven years ago—they have done very well out of it.
Perhaps it should have been pointed out to those customers early in the process that there would be a crunch and that they would be dealing with the complicated issue of being on a gross feed-in tariff—therefore, perhaps not receiving any benefit from their production yet having to pay full retail price for the power they use. Those customers will have bill shock. That will not occur for those already on a net metering system, such as the member for Maroubra and me. There has been some acrimony on both sides of the Chamber, which is par for the course.
The intentions of the then Labor Government were good. It was attempting to stimulate the market by trying to get more people into the scheme. In hindsight, the feed-in tariff was overdone; 60¢ a kilowatt hour seemed amazing. But nobody really spoke against it at the time. How was it going to be funded? We now know that it was set at an unsustainable level and that a lower level of 30¢ or 40¢ would have been more appropriate. However, as I said, the intention was good. This Government has inherited the problem that the feed-in tariff was oversubscribed and caused many problems. I am also sure that many customers on gross metering systems are ill-informed about what is looming. The Government must address that issue.
The bill provides a practical solution to delivering new metering systems. That is necessary because there are not enough accredited suppliers or installers to accommodate the demand of 130,000 customers. One must ask whether there are 130,000 meters waiting to be supplied. Obviously somebody in the retail market had an idea that this was coming. It also raises the question of what will happen to the 130,000 gross feed-in tariff meters. Where will they go? I am hopeful that the industry will accommodate the recycling of those electrical components.
My concern is that the situation has taken too long to address. I am concerned that people could experience bill shock because they are unaware of the change. We must move quickly to advise the community of their options. It is also important to educate people. The member for Maroubra spoke about having to learn how to use a net feed-in meter system. One does the washing and drying while the sun is shining. Whatever has a significant draw down on the electricity network is done while the sun is shining. That is the great benefit that people on a net system have been able to receive but people on a gross system have not.
I caution that we must move quickly on this. The Government should do whatever it can to reduce the possible impact on unsuspecting participants of the Solar Bonus Scheme who have gross feed-in meters and who could experience bill shock or the shock of having to pay for a new meter. Not everybody is equal in this situation. A cost of $400 to $600 will have a big impact. I ask the Government to pursue providers to ensure that they do what they can to reduce that impact. People who have a solar photovoltaic system need to understand the best way to make use of it and to understand, if they move to the net metering system, how to receive the maximum benefit from it. I support the bill but I am cautious about the outcomes.
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