THE cost of lighting the Hunter’s streets has skyrocketed by up to 65 per cent over the past three years, adding millions of dollars to the bills of the region’s struggling councils.
Making things worse, the councils say, is a delayed rollout of more energy-efficient street lighting by energy providers.
Figures from the five Lower Hunter councils show street light costs have risen by 32 per cent to 65 per cent since 2010.
An Ausgrid spokeswoman said the Australian Energy Regulator ‘‘determines what it believes to be the efficient cost of this service’’.
‘‘Ausgrid only charges the councils the actual cost of the service, nothing more,’’ the spokeswoman said.
Hunter councils are among 34 NSW councils to have joined the Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils to challenge Ausgrid’s street lighting charges and policies.
The councils claim they are being forced to pay high charges for old and over-valued street lighting assets. The Australian Energy Regulator has joined councils in arguing unsuccessfully in a tribunal of the Federal Court for changes to electricity laws to allow fairer valuations.
Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils general manager Alan Northey said the next regulatory review for pricing from 2014 to 2019 had begun.
‘‘We intend to strongly argue for better street light pricing and a better approach to price setting,’’ Mr Northey said.
Electricity prices were about 15 to 20 per cent of total street lighting costs, while about 65 to 70 per cent of those costs were capital and maintenance charges.
Mr Northey said there had been a 49 per cent average increase in capital and maintenance charges for street lights since July 2010.
Newcastle Cr Michael Osborne called for street lights to be handed to local government.
‘‘At the moment the electricity companies won’t let us change the lights [to cheaper and greener LED lights],’’ Cr Osborne said.
‘‘The issue is the electricity companies are a monopoly and they set the prices.’’
Newcastle council infrastructure services manager John Johnston attributed street light price rises to increased electricity prices and network costs and government schemes to encourage renewable energy.
Ausgrid disputes audit findings
AN audit of 500 street lights found 8 per cent were not working, Lake Macquarie councillor Robert Denton said.
Cr Denton did the audit in Kahibah, Charlestown, Cardiff, Barnsley and Edgeworth.
‘‘If 8 to 10 per cent of the lights are always out, are we entitled to an 8 to 10 per cent refund?’’ Cr Denton said.
Residents in Lake Avenue, Cardiff South; Marshall Street, Cardiff Heights; Thomas Street, Barnsley; and Northville Drive, Barnsley, reported street lights being out for a long time, up to two years in some cases.
‘‘This is a public safety issue,’’ Cr Denton said.
‘‘Street lights reduce crime, vandalism, antisocial behaviour and hoon activity.’’
Ausgrid’s spokeswoman rejected claims of street lights being out for two years, saying faults reported in those streets were repaired within 24 hours.
Cr Denton said Ausgrid should not rely on unpaid volunteers and civic leaders to report street light faults.
Ausgrid said it had replaced ‘‘about 12,000 lights across Lake Macquarie in the past12months’’.
‘‘This is part of a proactive program to prevent street light faults,’’ the spokeswoman said.
‘‘This means that 80 per cent of Lake Macquarie’s street lights have had their bulbs replaced and fittings cleaned over the past year.’’
She said Ausgrid also conducted night patrols of street lights on all major roads.