By JOHN DOOLEY
WHETHER politically motivated or not, the Turnbull Government is pledging to bring power prices down under its National Energy Guarantee (NEG) policy, which the Minister for Energy intends to implement in the near future.
The promise follows the recent release of a long-awaited report by the ACCC, which details ways the Government could reduce electricity prices for households by up to $400 a year.
The ACCC inquiry was commissioned in March 2017 by Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison, with one of the key measures recommended in the report looking at forcing retailers to offer a benchmark price near the ‘middle of the market’ to end confusing and deceptive discounts.
ACCC chair, Rod Sims, said that energy retailers can’t be trusted to set their own default prices to consumers.
Mr Sims estimates power bills could drop by up to 25 percent for average households if his report’s 56 recommendations are implemented.
“Over the last 10 years, adverse policy decisions have led to major cost increases to consumers, small business and industry,” he said.
“The national electricity market is largely broken and needs to be reset.”
If the ACCC’s recommendations were implemented, it’s estimated that more than two million small and medium businesses could save an average 24 percent on their energy cost, and consumers could save as much as 26 percent.
The ACCC also wants ‘pay-on-time’ discounts overhauled, saying they effectively act like a harsh, late-penalty for customers who aren’t able to pay their bills by the due date.
Speaking at the Press Club in Brisbane last week in response to the ACCC’s report, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said power companies have taken advantage of customers for too long.
“Australians are crying out for an energy policy that is focused on them,” he said.
“I want Australian consumers of electricity to know that everything that I and my government can do is being done to bring downward pressure on energy prices.”
Labor’s energy spokesman, Mark Butler, said power prices had skyrocketed under Mr Turnbull, and that the Coalition Party was divided over energy policy, creating uncertainty.
“The ACCC report is the culmination of Malcolm Turnbull’s failures to produce an energy policy that his party room will allow him to tick off on,” he said.
Speaking on the Nine Network, Minister for Energy, Josh Frydenberg, said the recommendation to underwrite new power generators had a lot of merit, and would go a long way to addressing a failure of the market.
“What the report is saying is that the government needs to step in to provide some sort of assurance, and that could include coal, gas, renewable energy or battery storage,” he said.
The report also recommends that governments effectively bankroll the construction of new ‘dispatchable’ (on-demand) power sources by guaranteeing long-term contracts for large industrial and commercial users.
Some Coalition backbenchers argue this means supporting a new coal-fired power plant, but Mr Turnbull said it will be up to the market to decide which generation method it wants to pursue.
One thing the Prime Minister wants is for the States to adopt the NEG, which is aimed at bringing down prices, while guaranteeing reliability and cutting emissions.
Mr Sims agrees, saying the NEG was a necessary step to bring affordability to the market.
“The Prime Minister said that he came into Parliament from a business background and that he is a practical person who likes to get things done,” he said. “I want to solve problems, and the problem is that right now, energy in Australia is too expensive.
“I’m confident the NEG will provide those signals – we have to put the ideology and the slogans aside and focus on getting the outcomes that deliver lower prices, that’s the test.
“Lower prices – that’s where the rubber hits the road, that’s what it’s all about in this business.”
Critics of the renewable energy subsidies will be hoping that they are reviewed in the process toward achieving lower prices, with NSW Liberal backbencher, Craig Kelly, one of them.
“If they (renewables) were wound back or removed, that would be $3.6billion saved, which equates to a saving of $600 for a family of four – that’s the cost of subsidising these intermittent renewables like wind turbines and solar,” he said.
In a report released on Tuesday, the Australian Energy Market Operator said the future of power generation will be renewables, but warned against the early retirement of coal plants, something the PM said he agreed with.