Which power companies dud solar households?

A new report reveals which power retailers pay their customers nothing for power exports, or refuse to go beyond the bare minimum required by regulators - with the sector's efforts generally 'not pretty'.

CORRECTED VERSION (12pm August 8): Reflects updated information from EnergyAustralia. 

The Total Environment Centre has assembled data showing for the first time all the current government feed-in tariffs and solar export prices offered by electricity retailers in all states and territories for residential customers.

The table below sets out which states mandate a minimum price for power exports and the level specified. The best rate is in the Northern Territory at 27.13 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Figure 1: Status of each Australian state and territory on minimum regulated export prices

Graph for Which power companies dud solar households?

In terms of the extent to which power retailers compete to go beyond the levels specified above, the TEC’s Mark Byrne noted: “The results are not pretty.”  

According to Byrne: “Even where competition does exist [between power retailers] most retailers only offer what state governments mandate them to offer. Where there is no minimum price for exported energy, only a handful of retailers offer more than a token amount.”

Going above and beyond

The TEC highlighted only two power retailers which it felt were going the extra mile:

Click Energy, a retailer in NSW, Victoria and Queensland which offers 10c per kilowatt-hour for solar power exports;

Horizon Power, the government power provider for regions of Western Australia that are not connected to the main southwest grid (the ‘SWIS’). Horizon can offer prices for exported power in some of its service areas as high as 50c per kilowatt-hour. This is because Horizon is heavily dependent on use of relatively expensive fuel sources, particularly diesel, for providing power to its remote customers while at the same time charging them artificially low prices (subsidised by WA taxpayers). The company has gone to the effort of determining a rate for solar exports calibrated to the value of avoiding the use of expensive fuel. This is something I believe Ergon in Queensland is yet to do, and the Queensland Competition Commission did not require them to do when they were supposed to.

The table below provides a brief summary of offers from retailers which go beyond the mandated minimums in particular jurisdictions. In WA, Synergy is the only retailer for residential customers (because power prices are set at subsidised levels), so this is all that is on offer in that state. Also, in Victoria there is only one retailer that offers a rate above the mandated minimum – Click Energy. And Tasmania doesn't yet have retailer competition.

Graph for Which power companies dud solar households?

Note: latest information provided by EnergyAustralia to Climate Spectator is that they offer a rate of 5.1 cents per kWh for exports in NSW and 6 cents per kWh for exports in Queensland.

So who are the retailers dudding solar owners?

The TEC names a number of power retailers as failing to go beyond the minimum level specified by the jurisdictional regulations but a number of these operate solely in Victoria and are, in fact, no worse than many of the retailers listed in the table above for that state. For example, among others Powershop is named by the TEC but they offer a rate no worse than anyone else in their sole state of Victoria, other than Click Energy. Indeed for those benefiting from the premium 60 cent feed-in tariff, Powershop at least offer 8 cents on top of that while Origin only pays 6 cents (The TEC data doesn't consider the legacy feed-in tariff arrangements).

If we exclude Victorian specialist retailers then we get a better picture of the retailers dudding solar owners where retail competition exists:

1. Simply Energy pay nothing at all for exported power by their customers in NSW and Queensland who were too late to get the government premium feed-in tariffs and only the bare minimum they’re forced to pay in South Australia and Victoria. Their parent company – International Power/GDF Suez – has also been one of the most active corporates  in lobbying against government policies that reduce carbon emissions and support solar and energy efficient products.

2. Dodo Power and Gas are another solar-dudding retailer operating in Queensland, NSW, SA, ACT and Victoria, although they aren’t noticeably active in undermining government policy to reduce carbon emissions – probably due to no ownership of power generation assets.

3. Momentum pay nothing for NSW customers exporting power who aren’t on premium feed-in tariffs and the bare minimum they are required to pay in SA and Victoria (they don't operate in Queensland). In addition, they act to undermine the voluntary GreenPower scheme and dupe customers by suggesting customers are buying 100 per cent renewable energy. This is purely an accounting sleight of hand because the renewable power they claim their customers are receiving is power that Hydro Tasmania would have generated in any case. By signing up as a Momentum customer on their '100 per cent Smile Power' product you are making precisely no difference to the amount of renewable energy generated in this country and no difference to greenhouse gas emissions. This is something the company belatedly acknowledges right at the bottom of its web page spruiking Smile Power as renewable energy. However, at least Hydro Tasmania has not been actively lobbying to undermine emission reduction policies. In fact, they have been supportive, for the most part, of the Renewable Energy Target and pricing carbon emissions, consistent with their commercial interests.

CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this article Energy Australia were listed as a company that did not pay anything for power exports from customers in NSW and Queensland. The company has informed Climate Spectator that this is not the case and that NSW customers receive 5.1 cents per kWh and Queensland customers receive 6 cents per kWh. In addition via use of the website EnergyMadeEasy.gov.au, Climate Spectator found a tariff from EnergyAustralia offering 7.7 cents per kWh for NSW customers (Offer ID:TRU11537MR). This error was due to reliance on information provided by the Total Environment Centre.