Friday, 24th September, 2010
Thousands can’t pay for power
By Gina Wilson
Almost 140,000 people in NSW can’t pay their energy bills, local MP John Williams told the NSW Parliament on Wednesday.
Twelve weeks after Country Energy implemented the first increase of what will be a 42 per cent hike in power prices, the highest of all the state’s electricity retailers, the Member for Murray- Darling told parliament that residents in the electorate would struggle to cope.
“As a local member I visit households where residents tell me of their real concerns about electricity consumption,” Mr Williams said in a Private Members Statement.
While it is unclear how many of the city’s residents might look for help with a power bill that in 2012/13 will increase by $603 per year, the Daily Telegraph reported on Tuesday that as many as 83,500 Country Energy customers were struggling to pay their power bills.
It said this year tens of thousands of people had signed onto Country Energy’s bill relief program, another 10,000 had asked for advice about payment schedules and thousands more were now on hardship schemes.
Country Energy increased its power prices after the NSW Government adopted the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal’s recommendations to do so. The first increase of 13 per cent began on July 1.
Earlier this year IPART acknowledged that regional areas were to face the highest price hikes, while on Wednesday local MP John Williams told parliament that theMurray-Darling electorate, which included Broken Hill, earned the least amount of money per person in the state.
Mr Williams has previously said that the combination of low income and higher power prices would have a severe impact on residents, including an increase in homelessness and a detrimental affect on the health of the elderly and those on low incomes as people forego medicines, air-conditioning and heating in an attempt to save money.
“On some days in the electorate the temperature exceeds 40 degrees,” Mr Williams said. “Those on fixed incomes are reluctant to switch on their air conditioning because of the price of electricity.
“In summer air conditioning is a necessity. Far too many of the households I visit are reluctant to use this necessity because they fear they will be unable to pay the electricity bill.”
Earlier this month local MP John Williams presented the NSW Parliament with a petition opposing the increases signed by more than 5,100 people. “Clearly, this response indicates that consumers hold concerns about electricity price increases,” Mr Williams said.
Mr Williams said the government did not have to adopt IPART’s recommendations. “The Minister for Energy, Paul Lynch, would have us to believe that the government has no choice but to accept the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal recommendations for price increases,” he said.
“I ask the Minister: If the prices rises are mandatory, why are they called ‘recommendations’? “In the past Government has not accepted recommendations from the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, particularly in relation to transport.
“Following a review of rail and bus fares, the Government did not proceed with the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal recommendations.“Therefore I question the Minister’s belief that the Government has to comply with those recommendations.”