Brumby’s dumb meters mean higher bills for solar panel homes

Thousands of Melbourne families who have tried to do the right thing for the environment by installing solar panels are missing out on promised savings, or even ending up with higher power bills, because of the dumb design of the Brumby government’s so-called ‘smart meters’, Shadow Minister for Energy and Resources Robert Clark said today.

The design specifications for the meters mean they are not able to measure off-peak power use and solar power generation at the same.

“Fortunately, some distribution companies are solving the problem by installing different meters for solar panel customers who use off-peak power,” Mr Clark said.

“However, Jemena and United Energy, who distribute electricity to millions of customers in Melbourne’s northern and south-eastern suburbs, are sticking to the government’s design specifications.

“This is causing great anger and distress for customers who check out the pricing of their panels and the solar tariff they will receive, only to find when it’s time to get the required new meter that it can’t separately measure the power they use on their off-peak tariff, forcing them onto a higher general tariff.”

The problem arises because off-peak tariffs charge a lower price for the power used by specified appliances, such as hot water systems. This requires the meter to be able to measure separately the power used by those appliances, but the Brumby Government’s specifications do not provide for this.

Although the new meters can measure total power use by time of day, electricity retailers are not able to provide time-of-day tariffs to customers without expensive individual calculations of their bills or until the retailers have completed the major upgrades to their billing systems that are required when the general roll-out of the new meters goes ahead.

“This latest ‘smart meter’ bungle comes on top of the fact that these meters won’t give customers any in-home display of power usage information, don’t allow customers to automatically switch appliances on or off, and will only connect to a home computer with extra hardware and using software and on-line information services that aren’t available,” Mr Clark said.

“Just as we saw with the flawed solar feed-in tariff earlier this year, the Brumby Government is full of talk about supporting solar power and reducing greenhouse emissions, but when it’s time for results they can’t or won’t deliver.”