Hunter Business Chamber says electricity prices are key in energy future

Electricity prices must be a top priority when considering the future of energy, the Hunter Business Chamber says.

The comments come as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull struck an agreement with energy retailers on Wednesday to be more transparent with customers about their power bills.

The deal will become law.

“Too many families are not on the best power deal,” Mr Turnbull said.

Federal and state governments are under pressure to reduce power prices and ensure a stable electricity system, while also dealing with climate change and the changing energy sector.

Hunter Business Chamber CEO Bob Hawes said the cost of power “has to come into the equation”, as politicians and citizens consider the future of energy.

“What’s the use of having a country that has lots of power, but is too expensive for anyone to use?”, he said.

“It’s no good ruling out coal and investing in expensive forms of power and expecting business and households to pick up the tab.”

Turnbull government MPs have raised the prospect of using taxpayers’ money to help build new “high efficiency, low emissions (HELE)” coal-fired plants, despite energy companies saying they are not viable because of carbon-price risk.

However, the prime minister has said “it's always better if the market delivers all of these solutions".

Mr Hawes said one form of power should not be favoured over another with a government subsidy, particularly when the private sector was involved.

“However, if the investment will give us better bang for our buck than other energy sources, we would be wrong to rule it out,” he said.

This debate comes amid concern about energy security and reliability, the closure of old coal-fired plants and the push for a Clean Energy Target under the Finkel review.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance research found solar and wind power were already cheaper than new coal-fired plants. It predicts that solar power is on track to become comparable in price to existing coal-fired power plants within 15 years and cheaper beyond that.

As for prices, Mr Turnbull said on Wednesday that energy retailers must contact customers who are on expired discounts and tell them “how much they can save on a better deal”.

Companies must now report to the ACCC about “what they are doing to get families on to a better deal”.

Mr Turnbull said the companies must produce comparison rates in “simple, plain English”.  He urged customers to shop around for cheaper prices.

The Newcastle Herald reported recently that a Valentine takeaway shop was hit with an electricity bill that had risen 42 per cent.

More generally, power prices for residents and businesses are set to rise by about 20 per cent this financial year.

The business sector has repeatedly urged the government to establish a long-term and consistent energy policy, so companies can invest with certainty and provide enough supply to reduce power prices, while creating a modern, secure and reliable electricity system.

Furthermore, generators are saying they won’t get an adequate return on investment in new coal-fired plants because of the long-term risk of the price of carbon, amid worldwide efforts to combat climate change.

The Clean Energy Council said in its submission to the Finkel review that the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy “will continue to increase over time”.

It said advances in battery and storage technology would “put downward pressure on power prices and improve the reliability and security of electricity supply”.

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