Wagga families feel power price hikes as complaints surge

Families in the Wagga region made 479 official complaints about energy companies in the last financial year.

According to the office of the Energy and Water Ombudsman, this represented a 12 per cent decrease across the whole year.

However, the ombudsman’s office said while the overall figure was down, the rate of complaints increased sharply in the final two quarters, as customers began to receive their winter bills, which included price hikes of up to 20 per cent announced in June.

Australian Energy Regulator data shows 85,801 NSW households owe money for electricity accounts, with another 44,854 households in debt over gas bills.

Small business was also feeling the strain, with 11,245 of these customers owing money for electricity, and 3175 in debt over gas bills.

Wagga woman Julie Morrison and her husband Phil will be reconsidering the use of their household heaters next winter, on the back of high power bills.

Mrs Morrison said she was hearing from friends on fixed incomes that they were trying to avoid using heating and instead switching to rugs to ward off the chill.

Other people, particularly the elderly who were more vulnerable to heat and cold, were spending their time in shopping centres with air-conditioning systems, said Jane Lieschke from Galore.

“We just shouldn’t have such high prices,” Mrs Lieschke said.

The figures were revealed at the same time as the federal government announced a $36 million scheme aimed at averting massive blackouts caused by overly high demand on the power grid.

The so-called demand response scheme, being trialled by provider AGL, would see thousands of customers, both residential and business, agree to cut their electricity usage in peak periods.

More than 10,000 customers would be paid an incentive to reduce their power consumption, switch to back-up generation or dispatch their energy storage for short periods when electricity reserves reach critically low levels. 

 Thousands of households will also be asked to voluntarily conserve their energy use under the pilot projects in exchange for incentives such as rebates on their power bills. 

Minister for Energy Josh Frydenberg, who announced the scheme, has yet to provide details on exactly how much of a financial incentive will be offered.