Energy companies spark anger from solar users

Fed up: Peter Ongley has been trying to get Red Energy to change his electricity meter so that he can use his own solar generated power for the last nine months.
Fed up: Peter Ongley has been trying to get Red Energy to change his electricity meter so that he can use his own solar generated power for the last nine months.

Some solar cell users are being prevented from using their own electricity because of lengthy delays to equipment changes by power companies.

In the meantime power companies are getting low cost electricity and after recent price hikes on July 1, charging about 15-20 per cent more for it.

Peter Ongley, of Merimbula was an early adopter of solar putting 2kW/h of solar cells on his roof in 2008.

The feed-in tariff of 60c paid a large proportion of his electricity bill but now the feed-in tariff has dropped to 6c he decided to use the electricity himself.

However that is not possible until he gets his meter changed. For almost nine months Mr Ongley has been discussing the meter change with his provider, Red Energy, who is supposed to change the meter from a gross meter (which allows electricity to be sold to Red Energy) to a net meter (to allow him to use it for his own household power needs).

My solar system used to cover 75 per cent of my quarterly bill. Now it is less than 10 per cent.”

Peter Ongley, Merimbula

In the intervening time Red Energy has been enjoying the purchase of energy from Mr Ongley at 6c per kW/h (kiloWatt hour) while he pays around 25c per kW/h.

Mr Ongley is annoyed at the delay and fed up with Red Energy’s excuses for the delay.

“Previously between half and three quarters of our bill would be covered. Sometimes we would break even. We knew the incentive would come to an end and knew we would have to get the meter changed from a gross meter to a net meter,” Mr Ongley explained.

“The power company started talking about it in November last year and said they would swap the meters free of charge before the tariff changes.

“There were letters and then they didn’t turn up so we phoned them. They told us because we had three phase power, a higher qualified electrician was needed.

“It got to February and they told us they couldn’t find enough electricians. Another month went by and I phoned again and it was the same story. Then I wrote an email and we kept on exchanging emails with the same excused being offered,” Mr Ongley said.

They have known for several years that the scheme was coming to an end but to wait until the end and then say oh dear me we need to do something is not good enough.

Peter Ongley, Merimbula

“In the meantime instead of being able to use my own power generation before buying from the grid, all my power goes to the grid for a pathetic 6c per kW/h and is sold back to me for a huge amount.”

By May Mr Ongley was increasingly annoyed and wrote to Red Energy to point out the company was profiting from the delay at his expenses and he expected to be compensated.

He was told he could pay for the change of meter himself or Red Energy could offer a one off payment of $50 but it came with conditions that he would have to stay with the company for a certain amount of time.

‘My solar system used to cover 75 per cent of my quarterly bill. Now it is less than 10 per cent,” Mr Ongley said.

“They have known for several years that the scheme was coming to an end but to wait until the end and then say oh dear me we need to do something is not good enough,” he said.

Mr Ongley is not alone in his frustration with energy companies. The Electricity & Water Ombudsman NSW has received increasing numbers of complaints.

The Energy & Water Ombudsman, Janine Young, said complaints had increased between January and March by five per cent with more about billing but a growing number about digital meters.

“Solar bonus scheme customers who have experienced a delay in having a net digital meter installed should ask their retailer for backdated premium feed-in tariff credits once their meter is installed,” Ms Young said.

“Customers who have concerns about the digital meter rollout should contact their retailer and if they’re not satisfied with the response, they should contact EWON on 1800 246 545 or by visiting ewon.com.au. Customers can get advice and assistance from EWON at any time in the process,” Ms Young added.

Red Energy has been asked for a comment.

Why did people buy into solar

Those that bought into solar power early on, like Peter Ongley, had to pay more for the solar cells and associated equipment, which have since come down in cost, but were offered a good deal if they sold the electricity they generated back to the energy companies.

Back in 2008 Mr Ongley might have been paying 20c per kW/h or less, but he was selling his solar power for 60c.

The incentive finished at the end of 2016 after which solar power was purchased by energy companies for 6c.

In the interim electricity prices have increased to around 28-32c depending on the contract.

With such a huge gap between the cost of electricity and price paid by the energy companies it is clearly better to use it yourself. However that can only happen with the right type of meter, something the energy companies were tasked to provide free of charge to their customers.