Power giant budgeted for price cuts but still appealed against lower prices

Angry: Country Labor’s Charlie Sheahan said Essential Energy had been caught out lying about why it went to court to fight price cuts.
Angry: Country Labor’s Charlie Sheahan said Essential Energy had been caught out lying about why it went to court to fight price cuts.

Essential Energy had budgeted for price cuts if it lost an appeal against the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) but went to court anyway - according to documents obtained by the NSW Labor Opposition.

Essential Energy documents reveal that the company had already made “sufficient adjustments to enable the business to operate within the capital and operating expenditure allowances of that determination” and the impact of the losing the appeal on the business "would be minimal”.

In 2015 the independent Australian Energy Regulator recommended price cuts of $313 for households and $528 for small businesses but Essential said lower prices would “compromise the safety and reliability of the network service”.

Networks NSW (Essential, Endeavour and Ausgrid) fought the AER’s determination to lower power bills by arguing that there would be “potentially catastrophic” consequences, like bushfires if the networks ran short of money and thousands of workers would be sacked if the AER got its way.

Power: The Nationals Steph Cooke and Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

Power: The Nationals Steph Cooke and Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the Government had a tough choice between supporting jobs for Essential Energy workers or the AER’s price cuts.

“What the regulator would have had us do would have cost hundreds of country jobs,” she said.

“We did not want to see jobs lost in regional and rural areas; the regulator hadn’t considered that in their decision.”

But, Shadow Minister for Energy Adam Searle said this is a scandal. 

"Essential Energy and the Berejiklian-Barilaro Government are forcing electricity customers in the country and regional NSW to pay nearly $2 billion more in their bills than they should be paying," he said.

“Essential claimed that there would be catastrophic consequences if its appeal against the original AER decision were lost - but now documents show this was untrue.

“As a result, the electricity company will now take nearly $2 billion more from its customers, and it is still sacking another 600 workers."

Country Labor’s Charlie Sheahan said the admission that there would be virtually no negative impact on Essential Energy’s bottom-line if it lost the AER appeal means that the business has made nothing but profit off the higher bills since the determination was dismissed.

“The State Government-owned electricity provider had been caught out lying about why it went to court to fight price cuts for household and small businesses in regional NSW,” he said. “People living in country and regional NSW are being fleeced by the Berejiklian-Barilaro Government.”