Smart meters coming despite cost concerns
"The NSW government recognises that certain customers may benefit from smart metering technology" ... Minister for Energy Chris Hartcher. Photo: Louise Kennerley
WITH little fanfare, the O'Farrell government is moving towards the introduction of the controversial ''smart meters'' in NSW.
On Tuesday, the Minister for Energy, Chris Hartcher, will release a discussion paper on the introduction of smart meters, which let electricity companies intervene directly to cut household electricity use at peak times.
The federal government wants all state governments to introduce the meters, which also give electricity companies updated information on power consumption.
Victoria is in the middle of the mandated introduction of the meters, at an initial estimated cost of $800 million, which has increased to more than $2.3 billion amid controversy.
Bruce Robertson, the electricity industry critic from consumer activist group Manning Alliance, who exposed industry overspending on its infrastructure, said the meters combined with flexible tariffs were the next ''gold plating''.
Mr Hartcher said the NSW government remained opposed to a mandatory national introduction of the so-called smart meters.
"Though the NSW government remains opposed to a mandatory national roll-out of smart meters due to the inevitable cost impost on customers if forced upon them without their choice, the NSW government recognises that certain customers may benefit from smart metering technology,'' Mr Hartcher said.
''Customers need to understand and believe in the benefits that smart meters can offer.
''And when these products are made available, customers should be entitled to choose.''
The meters are promoted as an aid to reducing electricity use during peak periods, which may assist in cutting the need for some investment in new power stations and on upgraded power networks, helping to take pressure off power prices.
However the NSW regulator, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, has warned the federal government the benefits must outweigh the costs and households themselves are best able to decide when to install these meters.
''We support the take-up of time-of-use and/or smart meters through a competitive market and at the discretion of the customer or their retailer,'' IPART said in a submission to a recent federal government inquiry into electricity.
''The benefits from deploying … smart meters [should] … exceed the costs.''
Initially, households that can shift their usage should be targeted, it said.
However, a number of households, such as families with young children or invalids could be affected adversely.
''In moving to smart meters those most disadvantaged need to be catered for and special policy measures put in place so they can also benefit from any gains from the technology,'' said Edward Santow, the head of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.
A report yesterday by his centre and the Physical Disability Council of NSW found there were approximately 1.1 million people in NSW with a physical disability.
A substantial number of them use electrical aids and equipment to assist with mobility, communication, breathing and life support, which leaves them exposed to rising power prices.