Statues Amendment (Smart Meters) Bill

Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (12:09): I, too, rise today to support the bill introduced by the Minister for Energy in September this year. South Australia has been a lead legislator for the National Energy Retail Law and National Electricity Law, and I am pleased to be able to support the bill which represents an initial step for the eventual widespread introduction of the use of smart meters and related technologies. It is a welcome relief to finally see the state Labor government doing something about this issue because after 12 years in government it has failed to take any action to implement smart meters, despite the widely recognised benefits of the technology.

Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (12:09): I, too, rise today to support the bill introduced by the Minister for Energy in September this year. South Australia has been a lead legislator for the National Energy Retail Law and National Electricity Law, and I am pleased to be able to support the bill which represents an initial step for the eventual widespread introduction of the use of smart meters and related technologies. It is a welcome relief to finally see the state Labor government doing something about this issue because after 12 years in government it has failed to take any action to implement smart meters, despite the widely recognised benefits of the technology.

 

 

At the moment, as some of my colleagues have already said, 99 per cent of households and businesses using electricity in South Australia are using the old bakelite accumulation meter. This type of meter measures overall usage. It is largely dated technology and it puts extensive burdens on the cost of having those meters read.

 

In the electorate of Chaffey there are a lot of particularly small irrigators; there are a lot of medium-size irrigators and there are some large irrigators. Over time I have watched the meter reader, come down the track through the property in order to access and read the meters on my properties—particularly on the river. Even if it is only 100 metres or 500 metres away—or in some cases a bit further—that meter reader has to go back out onto the main road and then enter the next property, and it takes considerable time for them to get down there to read the meter. That is at a significant cost to retailers and that cost is obviously passed on down the line. Physically visiting the properties to read meters also gives very little visibility of usage and, quite simply, the old meters cannot be used to manage the demand.

 

Smart meters will make life dramatically easier for electricity providers and consumers. The meters will digitally monitor the usage at about 30-minute intervals and provide more detailed, accurate and up-to-date data for retailers and consumers. Really, that is what it is about today: it is about having the edge or being able to find efficiencies within power usage.

 

The people of Chaffey have been significantly impacted by drought and water was one of the big issues for a number of years. However, gradually now with the rising cost of power—with high demand in hotter times, when everyone wants their air conditioning on and everyone is using power at a premium—we are having significant issues with brownouts, as the member for Waite has said and, in some cases, we have lines that are switched off when we have significant overload, I guess you would call it, on that particular line.

 

There are a lot of issues around smart meters, but it is like looking at the older technology of a Badger water meter. If we look at today's technology and what we are trying to achieve, we are now seeing the mag meters that are being introduced to measure water consumption. I think that reflects looking at smart meters and being able to remotely observe what is happening with power prices—it is a little bit like the mag meters. In today's world, an irrigator does not have to trudge down to their pump shed to look at their water meter. Nowadays, an irrigator sits in their office and can read what their power usage is and what their water usage is.

 

Many of today's technologies—and I will reflect again on the mag meters—can tell the irrigator if they have a burst main or if they are using excessive amounts of water because that will come up with an alarm. It is much like the smart meter, using that technology and monitoring to enable us to knock off the inaccuracies or other issues.

 

Along the way, in my experience of pumping quite significant amounts water, a service has come out of Victoria called UtiliCor. It is now in South Australia under the name Progressive Green. That service is offered to potentially larger pumpers, larger irrigators, who are using quite significant amounts of power. To put that into context, I have irrigators who in some instances are using in excess of $3 million worth of power each year. A medium irrigator uses potentially between $150,000 to $250,000 worth of power a year to pump water. Of course, we have smaller irrigators, from very small properties and with less power consumption, up to average irrigators, who would be using around $50,000 to $80,000 worth of power a year.

 

It shows the significant rise in the cost of power, the significant technology they are using nowadays, and to become competitive and water efficient we are now using more drip irrigation, more monitoring and more technology for when we actually water plants. It is of course when we have usage in the middle of the day—high demand is normally around heat. The technology is about watering a plant when it needs to be watered, so when they are using the high amount of power, when everyone else wants to keep cool in offices, when everyone else wants to maintain a lifestyle and keep comfortable, that conflicts with what irrigators are using when it comes to watering their crops.

 

Again, the retailers can introduce the voluntary time-sensitive pricing, but Progressive Green is giving a service to notify irrigators of when they see spikes coming in the prices of power. I have had my own experience, but I have irrigators who come to me and tell me that about 2¢ to 7¢ a kilowatt hour is a buy-in price. A lot of irrigators nowadays are not signing contracts but playing the market. This Progressive Green monitoring service normally gives them about a 24‑hour notice of price spikes, because again it can vary from 2¢ to 7¢ a kilowatt hour, and in some cases irrigators are paying up to $10 a kilowatt hour.

 

If you look at the comparison between the 2¢ to 7¢ up to $10 (which does not happen very often), they are some of the impacts. With technology, watering plants when they need to be watered in the middle of the day, this service tells them that there is a spike on its way and allows them to make a decision. It allows them to say, 'I'm not prepared to keep my pump going and paying exorbitant prices for power.' It gives them the option to be well informed and the option to install a diesel, and when the price of power is out of the realm of reality they can turn off their electric motors and start up their diesel pumps. It gives them an opportunity.

 

The smart meters can be monitored and have that service to allow them the option to turn off or turn on. That is something that has to be a part of today's world to keep us price competitive because, again, I hear too often from my constituents who have irrigation properties in South Australia and in Victoria, and they look at the price of power and the options they have in Victoria versus South Australia—because that is what they do—and Victoria is running rings around what we are provided with here in South Australia.

 

It is of real concern that we have to deal with old technology, but it is great to see that finally we have the government on board to look at smart meters. Also, these smart meters being fitted with the remote monitoring devices means that not only does it help drive down the price of power on your overall bill but also allows you to know that potentially you are entering a peak demand phase, and you can make informed decisions on exactly how you will address that.

 

Moving on from there, I guess what I am trying to really get across here is that, potentially for my constituents, we have to be competitive. We have to embrace these efficiency gains so that we can actually grow a product and be competitive with our neighbours in Victoria because, essentially, we are all going into those domestic markets, and the price of power now is having a significant impact on the bottom line of a grower's business.

 

Whether we are going into a domestic market or whether we are going into these ever-emerging export markets, we have to be able to drive efficiencies. Whether they are efficiencies within our own business, in managing the business, or whether it is being informed to know exactly when the peak price of power is coming at us, we need to know that so that we can actually make good, informed decisions, and that is where I think the smart meters really are going to play a significant part.

This current Labor government has been out of touch with the ever-increasing cost of living and the pressures that all South Australians are facing as a result of the electricity prices. I have heard a number of significant players—irrigators and water businesses—in my electorate saying that, once we get the basin plan in place and once we actually get to look at some reform around water, the next big issue will be the price of power.

 

The smart meter is a way in which we can initially address the price of power and be informed on the high use of power. As I said, for big irrigators using in excess of $3 million of power a year, every smaller increase in the cost of power is a huge drag on their bottom line. Of course, those medium irrigators are now being severely impacted on. Most of the medium irrigators are, I would say, large family farms, so that is playing on their bottom line. Whether or not the cost of power takes the edge off their bottom line, it is having a significant impact.

Just as important are the small irrigators—the family farmers—who are there working away, trying to drive efficiencies and trying to be cost competitive in a very competitive marketplace. They need to have those options as well, so the smart meter is something that needs to be addressed. With the cost of living pressures and the cost of running a small business, we need to have efficiency gains, and I think the smart meters will do that.

 

In closing, I must note that I was sitting here in this chamber, and I noticed that the member for Waite asked minister Koutsantonis (Minister for Energy) a question about the price of power. The minister said that the actual price of power had decreased by 9 to 18 per cent. Sadly, he had to be corrected by the Essential Services Commission, which pointed out that the average household market offers price had increased by $64 since 31 January. It really is something that the minister has been slow to act on, and for him to say that the price of power had actually decreased shows that he is not across what the real world is experiencing. With that contribution, I support the bill and commend it to the house.

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