Canberra households could face an almost $200 spike in their power bills in the coming financial year, with electricity prices in the ACT set to rise by up to 11.95 per cent from July.
The ACT's Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission published its annual decision on the regulated maximum electricity price increase for Canberra on Monday.
To ease the pressure on about 31,000 low-income households, the ACT government will spend almost $10 million on concessions over the next four years.
The increase comes after an almost 37 per cent increase in network costs.
The commission said higher transmission and distribution costs and the cost of the ACT government's large-scale feed-in tariff also contributed to the increase.
Under the commission's ruling, 11.95 per cent is the maximum increase allowed for ActewAGL's standing offers.
Should the full increase be applied to a standing offer, it would be an extra $3.76 a week, or $195 a year, for the average Canberra household, which consumes 6500kWh a year.
In response to the price rise, the ACT government will give an $800 concession to low-income households for the 2021-22 financial year.
The rise comes after electricity prices fell on average by 2.6 per cent this financial year. Chief Minister Andrew Barr said while the rise came on the back of a fall, the increase would be difficult for some Canberra households.
The government will increase the annual utilities concession for low-income households to $750 a year - an increase of $50 on the current concession. On top of that, the government will offer a one-off $50 concession for the 2021-22 financial year.
Mr Barr said about 31,000 households would be eligible for the $800 concession. He said the concession could cover a "significant portion" of electricity bills for low-income Canberrans.
"It would obviously depend on the level of energy consumption in the household ... the typical bill for a two-to-three-person household it will be about half," Mr Barr said.
"If it's a large household using more energy, it will be less than half. For a one-person household it will likely be more than half."
The concession scheme is eligible to people with a pensioner card, a Centrelink low-income healthcare card, a Veterans' Affairs pensioner card or an ACT services card.
While prices could increase by 11.95 per cent, the rise only applies to standing offer tariffs and customers could pay less if they shop around. ICRC senior commissioner Joe Dimasi said customers should contact their retailer and ask if a better offer is available.
"We understand how complicated it can be to compare electricity offers," he said.
"The ACT government has asked us to develop a code that will require electricity retailers to help consumers compare electricity offers and tell their customers if they might have an offer that could reduce their bills. In the meantime, consumers should ask their retailer for advice."
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The ACT government's introduced legislation last month to compel electricity retailers to tell Canberra customers if they can get a better deal.
Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Shane Rattenbury directed the commission to create the new industry code.
"Starting in the second half of this year, retailers must compare their offers with the reference price and tell customers if a better deal is available," Mr Rattenbury said.
"This will help customers to compare offers and make informed choices."
ACT Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee said the increase would hit the pockets of low-income Canberrans, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The Canberra Liberals welcome any support that will assist low income earners but let's not forget the only reason they have had to take this step is because of their failure to look out for Canberrans," Ms Lee said.
"We all want to see a renewables future but what the government needs to come clean to the public on is how they managed to box Canberrans in with a worse deal when it comes to electricity prices."
ACTCOSS chief executive Dr Emma Campbell welcomed the additional support for low-income households.
"Today's package of measures responds to ACTCOSS's advocacy for a permanent increase to the annual utilities concession and the expansion of the scheme to include people with an ACT services access card," Dr Campbell said.
Mr Dimasi said the average bill for Canberrans on standing offers would be in line with average standing offer bills in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
However, he said that care needed to be taken in making interstate comparisons as the regulated price increases mentioned only applied to standing offer tariffs.
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Lucy Bladen has been a journalist at The Canberra Times since 2019. She is an ACT politics and health reporter. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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