Plenty of spark left

CONFUSION has surrounded the sell-off of local electricity supplier Country Energy.

Worried customers have been assured however that local services will not be affected in any way.

Origin Energy has acquired Country Energy’s electricity, LPG and natural gas retail operations in the NSW Government sale of the state’s energy assets.

Country Energy provides electricity and gas throughout the Coffs Coast as well as other areas of country NSW.

Importantly, the sale does not include Country Energy’s electricity network business nor its Country Water operations in Far West NSW.

A spokesperson for Country Energy said as part of the sale agreement, Country Energy would continue to provide retail services on behalf of Origin for a transition period of at least three years.

“For now it is business as usual for Country Energy and our customers,” the spokeswoman said.

“We will remain one of regional NSW’s largest employers, and through our network operations we will remain a strong supporter of the 1500 local communities we serve.

“There will be no change to our core business of delivering safe and reliable essential services, and we will continue to deliver our five-year, $6 billion investment to maintain and grow our electricity network.

“There will also be no change to our network support services – customers can continue to call 13 20 80 to report supply interruptions or electrical safety hazards, and our local field service teams will be ready to respond 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“The NSW Government has outlined strong employment protections to ensure local job security for employees working in our retail business.”

Origin is paying $3.25 billion for a package of NSW electricity businesses, including the right to trade the output of Eraring Power Station, which is located on the western shore of Lake Macquarie near Dora Creek.

One of Australia’s largest integrated energy companies, Origin provides natural gas, electricity and LPG to more than 3.5 million customers across Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific.

This week energy commentators have said the price of energy will continue to rise over the next 10 years, whether energy utilities are in public or private hands.

They are advising electricity customers to search diligently for the best deals, saying the quality of the power will be exactly the same, whoever is selling it.

After 13 years of discussion and argument, the State Government has sold its energy retailing operations and the rights to trade electricity, but the generating assets remain in public hands.

This gentrader model was adopted by former NSW premier Nathan Rees after Bob Carr’s 1997 wholesale privatisation failed to gain approval and the ALP rejected Morris Iemma’s privatisation plans in 2008.

This week’s sale has been criticised for failing to introduce any new players to the market and failing to yield sufficient money to the government, thereby failing the public benefit test.

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