May 18th 2019


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Green energy policies freeze out the poor

EDITORIAL Religious freedom will be suffocated if ALP elected

FEDERAL ELECTION Majors fling barrels of pork in the way of disillusioned voters

CANBERRA OBSERVED If independents rule in House, stability is a goner

SOCIETY 'Ladies Wanted' flyers lure women into porn

CULTURE AND SOCIETY The last of his tribe

ECONOMICS Trading in the toxic legacy of neoliberalism

TECHNOLOGY The wheels come off Tesla's electric dream

HISTORY OF SCIENCE Faith and reason and Father Stanley Jaki Part 1

STATE POLITICS Notes from the hustings

A TRIBUTE TO LES MURRAY A man of the Word: the poet and the Logos

MUSIC Workhorse themes: Sonic sub-rhythms

CINEMA Avengers: Endgame: Marvellous final chapter

BOOK REVIEW The left has our schools in bondage

BOOK REVIEW Philosopher hits all the right notes

OBITUARY Bob Hawke: astute politician; flawed policies

THE CARDINAL PELL FILE

EDITORIAL How Scott Morrison routed Labor, the Greens, GetUp and the left media

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COVER STORY Green energy policies freeze out the poor

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, May 18, 2019

The increase in renewable energy (solar and wind) has pushed up electricity prices and, inevitably, increased the number of disconnections of poor families who cannot afford the rising price of electricity.

"Blow wind, and crack your cheeks."
- King Lear

In Western Australia, a recent report by the state’s Economic Regulation Authority revealed that almost 20,000 West Australians had their power disconnected in 2017–18, a rise of about 20 per cent over the previous 12 months.

In addition to the rising price of usage, the report identified the state government’s increase in daily fixed charges as one of the main reasons behind the surge in electricity prices, which cost consumers an extra $170 a year.

Electricity disconnections do not occur immediately after a bill is overdue. Under national energy retail law, the retailers must follow specific steps before disconnecting a customer’s power.

These are:

  • The retailer must send you a bill that includes how much you owe, when the bill must be paid and how to pay it.
  • If you fail to pay your bill by the due date, the retailer is obliged to send a reminder notice.
  • If you still have not paid the bill within the allocated time on the reminder notice, the retailer must then send a disconnection warning notice.
  • Once this has been sent, the retailer must also try to contact you if it has not already called regarding the unpaid bill.

All this happens before disconnection takes place.

Origin Energy says that Western Australia has one of the highest growth rates of solar uptake in Australia, according to 2017 data.

Research by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) also shows that solar panels represent the West Australian grid’s biggest collective generator.

Poor people generally do not have the capital to install solar panels, so the subsidised installation gives a substantial economic benefit to wealthy consumers. The same trend is appearing in several other states.

Other states

An article in the Herald Sun (February 2, 2019) reported that in NSW, disconnections were up by more than 18 per cent and hardships were up nearly 19 per cent. Disconnections were up by more than 30 per cent for both of the biggest retailers, AGL and Origin.

In Victoria, the Essential Services Commission reported that there had been a 35 per cent increase in disconnections in 2018 over the previous year.

Excluding disconnections from AGL and subsidiary Powerdirect, Victorian retailers disconnected 23,406 residential electricity customers in the first six months of the 2017–18 financial year, more than for the entire previous year.

In Queensland, power companies also recorded a sharp rise in disconnections, up 11 per cent in 2018.

In South Australia, disconnections overall were down slightly, but the two biggest retailers recorded big increases in disconnections: AGL up 19 per cent and Origin up 56 per cent.

AGL’s hardship customer numbers were up 67 per cent and customers on payment plans up 126 per cent, while Origin’s hardship cases were up 44 per cent.

Hardship cases have also risen nationally, climbing 14 per cent, while the number of payment plans being offered by retailers fell by 6 per cent.

A study of electricity disconnections in 2016 found that they were concentrated in rural and low-income urban areas.

If solar and wind power were actually cheaper than base-load coal-fired electricity – as the Greens and Bill Shorten claim – prices would be falling, along with the number of poor families being disconnected.

In fact, the opposite is happening, as a direct result of the replacement of low-cost base-load power with high-cost renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

UK trend

The same trend is evident in the UK, where the British Government has expanded subsidies for the installation of wind and solar power, while coal-fired base-load power stations have been retired.

According to the fuel poverty report recently released by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), nearly 70 per cent of UK households are heating their houses less than is required to meet the levels considered necessary to deliver comfort and health.

Those on lower incomes are “under-consuming” by a larger margin than those on higher incomes, with only the wealthiest decile consuming more than the estimated requirement.

The poorest households were under-consuming by the largest margin, and it is in this category that those most vulnerable to policy costs, the 2.2 million UK households using electric heating, are concentrated, particularly in rental accommodation.

Dr John Constable of the Global Warming Policy Foundation said: “We have long known that [Britain’s] energy and climate policies were regressive and damaging to the poor.

“The Government’s own data is now illustrating the facts, showing that those on the lowest incomes, who often have no alternative to electric heating, simply cannot afford to keep warm. That is deeply unjust, and the Government should take corrective steps immediately.”

The cost of implementing the climate-change agenda is being borne almost entirely by those who can least afford it: the poor.




























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