Power companies want to flick your switch

HOUSEHOLDS should be prepared to allow power companies to turn off large energy-guzzling appliances, such as dryers and airconditioners, during periods of peak use, according to electricity distributor Ausgrid.

In return, households could receive price rebates, which would limit or offset the rise in power prices.

Ausgrid made the call yesterday, while also arguing for the installation of so-called smart meters that could enable energy companies to impose higher charges during times of peak demand.

The call came as the pricing regulator, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, considers another round of hefty rises to household electricity prices of up to 20 per cent from July 1, the third year of double-digit price rises for some households.

Part of the reason for surging power prices was the need to build electricity assets that were used for only a few hours a year, at times of peak power demand, Ausgrid said yesterday.

It estimates about 15 per cent of the capacity of the electricity market is used only four days a year, typically to meet high demand on hot days.

‘‘That’s $11billion worth of network equipment built to meet demand for just 100 hours,’’ Ausgrid managing director George Maltabarow said.

‘‘I don’t think anyone would suggest on a hot day don’t turn on the airconditioner. There are other ways of reducing peak demand.’’

New-generation smart meters allowed the interruption of power use for short periods across large parts of the power network, he said. This would remove some of the pressure for higher power prices by cutting the need for power stations and transmission lines that were used only a few hours a year.

Electricity companies have been criticised for overspending on new equipment, which is pushing power prices higher.

‘‘This is not because networks are ‘gold-plated’ or because there is unnecessary investment ... [but] networks must be able to meet peak demand ... to avoid blackouts,’’ Mr Maltabarow said.

The NSW government has ruled out allowing a broad rollout of smart meters, due to their cost and the widespread opposition that has emerged in Victoria.

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