Lee Constable

Power prices surge again

YOUR electricity bill is about to rise by up to $316 a year under new charges which will come into force from July 1.

Under recommendations just released by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, bills for NSW households will increase by between 16.4 per cent and 18.1 per cent.

IPART says average residential customers will pay between $228 and $316 extra a year and average business customers will pay between $325 and $528 more a year.

The rises have been blamed on an increase in network costs and the federal government’s Renewable Energy Target .

AusGrid (formerly EnergyAustralia) bills are set to rise 17.9 per cent, Integral Energy bills by 16.4 per cent and Country Energy bills by 18.1 per cent under the proposals, released in Sydney yesterday.

Origin Energy has bought the retail operations and brand of both Country Energy and Integral Energy from the NSW government so local customers will be hoping to see rises at the lower end of the expected range next financial year.

The proposals are the maximum amount by which retailers would be allowed to increase their charges.

Country Energy, which supplies the power and provides maintenance, upgrading of and investment in the power supply, is now called Essential Energy and continues to be owned by the NSW Government.

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has announced a three-point plan to ease the price pain, saying IPART’s determination was “a bleak day for energy users across the state”.

Mr O’Farrell said rebates of up to $250 a year, promised during the state election campaign, had been approved by cabinet.

He also announced an immediate capital expenditure review for the state-owned power network, to determine if there was any “gold-plated” spending and see where savings could be made.

The State Government would also seek compensation for the Federal Government’s RET program, which IPART blamed for a large part the proposed energy price hike.

“I’m told between $80 and $100 of these increases are directly due to federal renewable energy schemes,” Mr O’Farrell told reporters at Parliament House in Sydney.

Federal and State government renewable energy schemes were slammed by IPART chairman Rod Sims, who said the cost to consumers greatly outweighed the benefits.

The NSW Business Chamber reacted angrily to the big rises in power bills, saying the burden would hurt businesses.

“This is a crippling blow for every energy-reliant business in NSW and a savage blow to local exporters who have yet to come to terms with the impacts of a very high Australian dollar,” chamber CEO Stephen Cartwright said in a statement.

The acting general manager of Origin Retail, Naz La Gamba, said Origin was taking steps to inform and assist all their customers in NSW concerned about the prospect of further prices in July 1, 2011.

“We are particularly mindful of the issues faced by customers having trouble paying their bills," Mr La Gamba said.

“We help customers in a number of ways, including the facilitation of access to government assistance such as the Energy Rebate scheme and Energy Accounts Payment Assistance.

“We also have trained staff available to assist customers facing financial hardship and we have recently doubled our financial contribution to supporting our hardship programs.

“We urge any customer experiencing difficulties to get in touch with us as soon as possible.”

Further information is available at www.ipart.nsw.gov.au.

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