Update One of the largest network operators in Victoria has criticised state governments in Victoria and New South Wales over their handling of the debate about the roll-out of smart meters.
Jemena, which provides electricity to 319,000 homes and businesses across north-west Melbourne, said the Victorian government under Ted Baillieu had failed to back the $2.3 billion program for political reasons.
An earlier version of the program introduced by Labor premier John Brumby used simpler devices and would have cost $850 million.
The larger sum, along with Wonthaggi desalination plant and the Myki transit card, became key election fodder for the Coalition and they have continued to wield it, Scott Parker, Jemena’s general manager corporate affairs, said.
The government was happy to attend launches of online portals by firms such as Jemena that show how households could save money from the meters, he said.
“But it won’t get up there and defend the integrity of the program, and will still call it a program whose budget blew out under the previous government – and no such thing happened – but it’s not in their political interest to say otherwise.”
Victoria’s Energy and Resource Minister Michael O’Brien, though, said the state’s Auditor-General had found a “massive smart meter cost blowout” during the former government’s watch.
“The Coalition Government independently reviewed the program,” Mr O’Brien said in a statement. “As a result we are reining-in the costs and bringing forward the benefits of smart meters to consumers.”
The Baillieu government decided a year ago to proceed with the mandatory state-wide introduction of the intelligent metering device – which provides two-way communication between the consumer and the energy provider – but had provided textbook “learnings” that other states would do well to study, Mr Parker said.
“The big thing was that smart meters needed to be rolled out in conjunction with time-of-use pricing … so that people can see the benefit.”
Instead, the government introduced a moratorium on more flexible pricing in the state six months after the first meter installed, leaving consumers confused and opposed to the meters. From next July, Victorians will have the option to choose variable pricing from peak to shoulder and off-peak rates.
“The Coalition Government is determined to make smart meters start to pay their way, after years of mismanagement by Labor,” Mr O’Brien said.
“Victoria will be the first State to introduce widespread access to flexible pricing and off-peak rates from mid-2013”.