Power Play

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An over-investment in poles and wires means that ‘network charges’ on Australian electricity bills are among the highest in the world. But by charging these high prices, have the networks created conditions that will lead them to be undercut by new solar technologies?

Yesterday’s Background BriefingThe Big Disconnect – was ABC investigative journalism at its best.

I listened, as I am sure many of us here did, with interest to a program that summarised the idiotic “decision-making” of Australia’s dinosaur power network companies over the past couple of decades – the gold-plated poles etc., – a story well-known to many of us.

(For those who haven’t caught up with the program yet, try the link of your choice: Audio; Full Transcript)

So, why am I bothering to highlight a well-made, engaging Sunday morning radio program on a topic that’s fairly familiar?

Okay, it was this part – almost at the end – that made my jaw drop:

Jess Hill: As the networks try to create certainty in a world where increasingly there is none, one new strategy they’re dreaming up is to charge people, whether they are connected or not. Rob Murray-Leach from the Energy Efficiency Council:

Rob Murray-Leach: I can’t think of a single other industry, even telecoms, where people said, ‘Well, you know what, I know that you don’t have a mobile phone or a land line anymore, but we’re still going to charge you as if you had one because we built this stuff a while ago on the hopes that you’d use it.’ So that’s a really big political question. I think it’s going to be a very, very big debate in the next 5 to 10 years.

Jess Hill: It’s the companies that should be responsible for their own bad decisions, says Tosh Szatow.

Tosh Szatow: It’s a dangerous game for them to play, because network businesses are responsible for efficient planning and investment in their assets. So there is no case to be made for consumers being left to pick up the bill if stranded assets emerge. It should be the investors that have made those poor investment decisions over the last five years that are going to be left picking up the tab.

(My emphasis.)

Why did I immediately start thinking about protection rackets?

Why would I not be surprised if the present Federal government gave them the green light?

Move over, Mafiosi – here’s a real power play.

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