Canberra lockdown could lead to greater electricity bill rise

The ACT recorded an almost $300 increase in average electricity bills since July 2020. Picture: Shutterstock
The ACT recorded an almost $300 increase in average electricity bills since July 2020. Picture: Shutterstock

The power bills for most Canberrans are likely to increase due to the effects of the ACT's COVID restrictions, according to the territory's largest energy provider.

ActewAGL has said energy use across the ACT was expected to rise across the city due to the lockdown, which would likely impact on the next statement for customers.

"With the ACT and regional surrounds being in lockdown for an extended period due to COVID, it is likely that household energy use will be higher than when people are at work or school," a company spokeswoman said.

It comes as financial support services have said more people have reached out for assistance with energy bills in the wake of the lockdowns.

Care Financial Counselling Service chief executive Carmel Franklin said continued COVID restrictions and loss of income had led to further uncertainty over whether some people could afford to keep the power going.

"Following last year's lockdown, we have had contact from more people who have lost hours or work due to COVID, including people having to access emergency help for the first time," Ms Franklin said.

"Several people have called because they are struggling to deal with an energy bill or they are on payment arrangements that they cannot maintain due to a reduction of income."

The potential price rise comes as a new report by the St Vincent de Paul Society found the average ActewAGL electricity bill had risen by $285, or 12 per cent, since July last year.

While the report showed annual gas costs have gone down by almost 2 per cent since July 2020, a combined electricity and gas offer increased by an average of $205, or 5 per cent.

St Vincent de Paul's manager of policy and research Gavin Dufty said the already large price increase, coupled with increased power usage at home due to the lockdown, could lead to even larger rises in quarterly bills.

"I would not be surprised if more people experience bill shock when the next bill comes," Mr Dufty said.

"With lockdown, everyone is at home and consuming a lot more electricity, and the longer people are in lockdown and working from home, the more consumption will increase."

ACTCOSS chief executive Emma Campbell. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

ACTCOSS chief executive Emma Campbell. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Chief executive of ACT Council of Social Service Dr Emma Campbell said the electricity price increase would greatly impact Canberra's most vulnerable.

"This will have the hardest impact on those households living on low wages and on income support payments that remain woefully below the poverty line," Dr Campbell said.

"During the COVID health and economic crisis, poverty rates have increased in the ACT as housing affordability worsened, leaving more Canberra households struggling to keep a roof over their heads and the power on."

The ActewAGL spokeswoman said support measures for customers facing financial difficulties would still continue during the lockdown.

"We have a range of both short and long-term support options available for customers, including flexible payment arrangements and extensions," she said.

ACT government measures already in place for energy bill relief include an $800 utilities concession, as well as a $1 million utilities hardship fund.

"Customers are encouraged to engage early with their retailer and access available support measures, including energy vouchers and payment arrangements," an ACT government spokeswoman said.

The large increase in the past financial year comes after several years of price drops for Canberra energy bills.


Earlier this year, energy distributor Evoenergy said it was increasing the cost of electricity bills due to the territory government's renewable energy measures, following a sharp rise in feed-in-tariff payments to wind and solar generators.

Dr Campbell said while the council supported the territory's move to 100 per cent renewable energy, more needed to be done to ensure there was no impact to those facing financial hardship.

"We need to ensure that this is a just transition and that the costs and benefits are distributed fairly and equitably," she said.

Mr Dufty said another key factor for the price hike was the increase in the cost to operate the city's poles and wires.

"A lot of the ACT's future price trends depend on the wholesale cost," he said.

"If it remains, the exposure to the difference will be high and this could be the new normal for the short term.

"However, if wholesale prices kick back up again and households have to make up less of a difference [to the power companies], there should be less exposure to higher prices."

The new report, the 11th year the organisation has undertaken tariff tracking in the ACT, found the average electricity market offer, which was inclusive of discounts, had gone up by $105.

However, for solar households, the average bill was found to be $400 less than non-solar homes.

Mr Dufty said while gas prices in the ACT went down due to the reduction in gas price costs, there was the potential for price rises in the future as the territory transitions away from the power source.

"Without a transition plan and without appropriate support, there is the potential for households to experience a significant price increase," he said.

"The ACT needs to develop a gas transition plan and make sure they have complementary measures to assist households on gas and move to replace them with electric appliances."

It may be some time before the full effects of the lockdowns on power prices are known, but Mr Dufty said there were still many financial measures that households could take.

"What I would say is don't be afraid to call your retailer, because they can offer support which includes payment plans and debt referrals and waivers," he said.

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This story Lockdowns could lead to electricity bill rise first appeared on The Canberra Times.


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