Labor sparks up-Opposition calls for an inquiry into electricity prices

SEEKING ANSWERS: Labor's Adam Searle has written to the Australian Energy Regulator asking it to investigate the behaviour of Essential Energy.
SEEKING ANSWERS: Labor's Adam Searle has written to the Australian Energy Regulator asking it to investigate the behaviour of Essential Energy.

The State Labor Party has called for an inquiry into electricity prices and Essential Energy's decision to spend millions fighting a proposed cut to household and small business electricity bills.

Shadow Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy Adam Searle said he has written to the Australian Energy Regulator asking it to investigate the behaviour of Essential Energy.

"We also want the Regulator to look at whether the other two electricity companies - Ausgrid and Endeavour, which have since been sold by the NSW Government - have behaved in the same way," he said.

"There is so much distrust of the electricity companies in the community, and this issue of Essential’s behaviour just makes it worse. A full investigation by the regulator is needed."

Mr Searle said the State Government owned Essential lied to the regulator and the courts about the basis of its legal challenge. 

"In the challenge, Essential claimed it needed the additional revenue to ensure the integrity and safety of the network, prevent bushfires and preserve employment of its staff," he said.

"But despite winning its appeal, Essential has continued sacking staff, intending to shed another 600 by 2018. When the Nationals came to office, Essential employed around 4200 staff, as of June this year that number is 2930, and they want to reduce numbers even more. 

"NSW Labor is very concerned that Essential’s customers in Young, Cootamundra, Cowra and right across rural and regional NSW are now paying for that decision. Nothing said during the recent by-election campaign properly answers why."

But Minister for Resources and Energy Don Harwin said Labor and Mr Searle were being disingenuous. 

“Labor is misleading the community about this matter,” he said.

“They know the Regulator handed down a determination on what prices Essential Energy could set for its customers.

“Essential Energy did appeal that determination - however, they made an undertaking to only charge what the Regulator determined was appropriate.”

Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke weighed into the debate by praising Essential Energy and said the Government is doing everything they can do to ease the cost of living burdens on residents.

“I’m pleased to see Essential Energy is working in the best interests of our community,” she said.

“Power prices are a concern for homes and businesses throughout the Cootamundra electorate and it’s important for network operators to be proactive in pushing prices down.”