Surge in electric hostility
Smart electricity meters are sometimes being installed without consent and against the wishes of property owners.
Smart electricity meters are sometimes being installed without consent and against the wishes of property owners. SMART electricity meters are sometimes being installed without consent and against the wishes of property owners, sparking a surge in consumer complaints and, in extreme cases, attacks on electrical contractors.Power companies continue to roll out the controversial technology and are increasingly targeting apartment buildings in their installation timetables. This is all despite a government review that could scrap the scheme, although there has been an assurance from Energy Minister Michael O'Brien that meters already installed would be retained regardless of the outcome.New figures from the Energy and Water Ombudsman reveal complaints about smart meters almost doubled during the first six months of the year, amid growing anger over the tactics used by electricity distributors. There are also claims that up to 15 per cent of the new meters deliver inaccurate readings.The former Brumby government introduced the technology to encourage Victoria's 2.2 million households and 300,000 businesses to curb energy consumption and reduce carbon emissions by using off-peak tariffs.But some consumers say that they cannot use power at the times of day when cheaper rates are available, despite having to pay higher charges for new meters.About 750,000 meters have already been installed, and the Baillieu government is awaiting an independent report before deciding on the future of the scheme. The review by Deloitte followed a $1.2 billion cost blow-out and a consumer backlash.''We've received a wide variety of customer complaints, from problems with the exchange of meters, high bills and installation issues. While the government made it clear that people could object to having a smart meter installed, we've had complaints from people who left a note on their existing meters, which was not complied with,'' Energy and Water Ombudsman Fiona McLeod said.Complaints to the ombudsman soared to almost 500 in June; the highest number since the meters were first rolled out in 2009.Ms McLeod said there was a perception that the meters contributed to higher bills. ''A lot of the old analog meters run slow or are faulty, so some consumers are actually getting an accurate reading with the new meters, but may not be happy with that outcome,'' Ms McLeod said.Several apartment owners have claimed that energy distributors have ignored their requests to defer installation until the state government made its decision on the future of the contentious scheme. ''They [power companies] are coming in and insisting that tenants co-operate, often without any notice and disregarding the fact that owners have a right to say no,'' said Strata Community Australia's Victorian president, Stephen Raff.Distributors must give tenants at least 20 days' notice and provide a second notification four days before installation.Mr Raff said his organisation, which represents Victoria's body corporate managers, had been inundated with complaints from apartment owners and tenants, with about 15 per cent claiming that meter readings were inaccurate.He said power companies were targeting apartment blocks to continue their meter rollout because there was often confusion between owners, tenants and real estate agents over access to meter boxes.The electricity distributors, who sought to charge $1.24 billion to install and operate smart meters between 2012 and 2015, have recently been rebuked by the Australian Energy Regulator for their proposed charges.In a draft determination, the regulator said the cost should be $760 million which, if accepted, would allow power companies to increase charges by only 20 per cent rather than the proposed rise of 61 per cent between 2011 and 2015.Consumer Action Law Centre energy spokeswoman Janine Rayner called on the government to provide more information on the embattled program.''We are still waiting for an honest and clear campaign about why we need this technology. We still don't know who will be better or worse off,'' Ms Rayner said.Growing frustration among consumers is also causingproblems for electrical contractors used by the power companies to install the meters.Some electricians have been forced to walk away from jobs after physical threats and verbal abuse from irate home owners.Electrical Trades Union organiser Peter McKinnon said he had advised members to avoid conflict. ''This technology seems to have generated a huge amount of hostility and our members are copping a fair amount of abuse, but it's not their fault,'' Mr McKinnon said.''If people don't want the meters then they should say so. We are not going to get involved in punch-ups over this.''Representatives of United Energy, Jemena, SP AusNet and CitiPower denied that tenants had been given inadequate notice about meter installation. Several blamed delays in the government review and misleading media reports for uncertainty surrounding the program.A spokesman for the Energy Minister said the report's findings would be released by the end of the year.Opposition energy spokeswoman Lily D'Ambrosio said the government had failed to allay consumer fears of a sharp rise in power bills.''The Premier has had nine months to make a decision and now his dithering is creating enormous confusion and anxiety among Victorians,'' Ms D'Ambrosio said.