ACCC chair: C&I users need cheaper energy

The Australian energy market is working well for energy companies, but not for commercial and industrial (C&I) users, according to ACCC chairman Rod Sims.

Delivering an address to the Energy Users Association of Australia’s (EUAA) 2018 National Conference today, Mr Sims highlighted the current state of Australia’s electricity and gas markets.

“In Australia, the matters surrounding energy are some of our defining economic challenges for the 21st century,” Mr Sims said.

“It is the C&I customers who need us to find solutions; the energy companies don’t have as strong an incentive to fix the problem.”

Mr Sims singled out the gas market as being of heightened concern to C&I users, given the implications for employment, investment and company viability.

“If the gas market was functioning effectively, current price signals would encourage additional investment but the gas shortfall for southern states, moratoria and other regulatory restrictions are impeding the market,” he said.

“There is insufficient gas currently forecast to be produced in south east Australia to meet the domestic demand in the south.

“This affects negotiations between gas suppliers and buyers in every region in the southern states and could add at least $2/GJ and possibly up to $4/GJ to the prices paid by gas consumers in the southern states.”

Last week, the ACCC announced it will begin publishing LNG netback price series on its website to improve market transparency.

“We will publish both a series based on measures of recent and historic Asian LNG spot prices as well as a forward indicator extending to the end of the following calendar year,” Mr Sims said.

He also discussed Australia’s current electricity affordability crisis, which is affecting both C&I users and the community more broadly.

“For C&I customers, huge increases in electricity prices have been driven mainly by an overspend on network infrastructure (poles and wires) and environmental schemes such as premium solar feed-in tariffs,” Mr Sims said.

“More recently wholesale cost increases have driven prices even higher as generation capacity exited the market.

“The ACCC is now focused on producing a report by the end of June on how to improve electricity affordability for Australian businesses and consumers.

“We will make recommendations on networks, environmental schemes, generation and retail. We will factor in and reflect on a wide range of recent proposals, such as the National Energy Guarantee and the Grattan Institute’s work on network valuations.”

C&I users tend to be the largest users of gas and electricity, accounting for 26 per cent of total electricity consumption, and 46 per cent of total gas consumption.