Are your hot water bills individual or collective? Do you pay depending on how often you shower or your unit’s size and number of rooms?
Could you, for instance, be charged as much for your hot water as a holiday let apartment crammed with tourists who can’t stay out of the shower?
This is the dilemma facing a reader who lives in a small beachside apartment block on the north shore where residents have just been informed that their user-pay energy bills will be switched to a system based on unit entitlements (the same basis on which their levies are calculated).
And to add insult to financial injury, it’s all about making their meter reading more convenient for the supplier.
“Towards the end of last year we received, via our strata managers, a message from Ausgrid to let us know our electric group hot water metering system is no longer compliant,” says our Flatchatter. “They say they have been instructed by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO, the government body that regulates national gas and electricity supplies) to comply with “competitive meter rules” put in place by the Australian Energy Marketing Commission (AEMC), by October this year.
“From my reading of the rules and the reason for the changes it seems to be totally to do with competition for the retailers, but there is nothing that shows it will be beneficial for the end user, the consumer, especially when it comes to the lowly hot water system,” says our correspondent.
“Currently … the occupiers of the units are charged for the hot water they use depending on their hot water meter reading … so it is user pays.
“Ausgrid proposes changing the meters to smart meters and joining them to the common property meter so the strata scheme will receive one bill covering the hot water as well as the common property lights and power point usage.
“Our strata managers have told us the bill will be treated the same as our water bill, which is divided between owners depending on unit entitlement. I see three issues at present with this scenario:
- As the landlord is now covering the tenants’ electricity, rents will have to go up, and they will have to go up more than the unit entitlement, so the owner is not disadvantaged at some stage.
- A two-bedroom unit with five or six people staying in it will use more hot water energy than a two bedroom unit with only one person in it, yet if their unit entitlement is the same, the owners will pay the same bill.
- If one of the units is empty for a period, that owner will still be responsible for paying for hot water energy their unit has not used.
“Not that it concerns me, but it seems to also be anti-competitive,” says our Flatchatter, “as it will take the hot water energy component out of the retailers bills, and it will all go to the one retailer who is billing the strata for its common power.
Last year Ausgrid told our correspondent that there were about 30 blocks that were affected by this rule change and their strata managers represented about 20 of them.
The strata managers have said this system of charging for hot water energy consumption is unique to the northern beaches and it is thought to have been introduced by the old Mackellar County council.
“They claim they have been told there is only one block using this system outside of the northern beaches,” says our Flatchatter. “But today in an email from the Energy and Water Ombudsman for NSW (EWON), they say Ausgrid has advised that it historically maintained electric common hot water systems and water meters that measure hot water consumption in apartment complexes across Sydney, in the Northern Beaches, and Pyrmont.
“So it is obvious we are not being told the whole truth,” says our Flatchatter. “I have requested a list of the strata plans involved from Ausgrid, and that has not been forthcoming. I have asked strata managers for the same information, and they have cited privacy laws as the reason for withholding the information.”
“To date I have contacted Ausgrid, the Australian Energy Regulator (AER), AEMO, AEMC and EWON asking them to show me the rule that says Ausgrid can go ahead and carry out their proposal and to date none of them have been willing to assist other than referring me back to either AER or AEMC, who refer me to Ausgrid.
“I see no reason for this change other than it will benefit a wholesaler, Ausgrid, so they don’t have to send out a meter reader, and it puts the responsibility of distributing the hot water electricity charges onto the volunteer strata committee.”
This certainly seems to be a backward step, especially when one of the most effective ways of cutting down energy usage and water wastage is to have separate flate on individual meters.
Have any other readers been switched, against their will and better judgement, to a one-size-fits-all hot water and electricity billing system? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or get involved on the Forum, and let us know what’s going on with you.