Prepayment meters introduced to Aboriginal communities

Aboriginal communities

Horizon Power has installed 83 advanced prepayment meters in 11 Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley, Mid-West and Goldfields regions in an effort to make energy bills easier to manage.

To complement this installation, Horizon Power has developed an app that allows residents to purchase power from the comfort of their home, although they can still buy power from their local store or post office.  

Prior to the prepayment meters, residents would have to contribute to pay one community bill regardless of how much power each house used. 

Over time this led to more than $1.2 million of debt accumulating across eight of the communities and was inequitable for residents.

The work, which began last year, also involved the networks being inspected by electrical contractors. This was important as the networks are not always maintained, which can lead to safety issues.

Related article: Horizon Power wins award for digital innovation

In these communities, Horizon Power delivers power to the master meter at the front of the community.

Horizon Power’s project manager Roanna Edwards said, “Imagine living in an apartment building with 100 apartments and receiving one bill for the whole building which then has to be divided up between all of the residents, regardless of whether some residents use more or less electricity than their neighbour.

“That was the situation in these communities which came to us for help and Horizon Power was able to assist,” Ms Edwards said.

The project was carried out in two phases over 2018-19 and all communities were keen to participate in the opt-in program. Now all of the communities have the new prepayment meters, which means residents buy power for their meter and then top it up once the power they have purchased is used up.

The 11 communities to receive the prepayment meters were Emu Creek, Munthanmar, Bell Springs and Mud Springs, near Kununurra; and Loanbun, Karnparrmi, Gillarong and Joy Springs, near Fitzroy Crossing, Koorda Club (Woodgamia) in the MidWest region and Buttah Windee and Marmion Village in the Goldfields region.

“Prepayment meters will result in improved affordability for residents in communities, and will ensure eligible residents can access energy rebates for the first time,” Ms Edwards said.

The project involved Horizon Power undertaking network condition inspections, ensuring the safety of electrical infrastructure in these communities. Several electrical safety issues were identified and rectified with the support of Department of Communities and the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage and local electrical contractors.

A key feature of the project is the ongoing and respectful engagement with community leaders and residents to ensure work is undertaken at times that suit the communities and that the new way of paying for power is fully understood.

Horizon Power now has more than 1300 prepayment meters installed in remote areas throughout the Western Australia. Recently, Horizon Power rolled out a new app that allows residents to pay for their power from their phone rather than have to go to the store to purchase credit for the prepayment meter.

Related article: Horizon Power expands battery storage capabilities

Buttah Windee community leader Andrew Binsiar said the residents really like the new system of paying and they have had no issues at all.

“Before we had issues with the prepayment cards because we had trouble getting the cards and then we had debt building up because the old meters were stuck at an older tariff and we had to pay the difference,” Mr Binsiar said.

Mr Binsiar said it was still convenient for residents to buy power for their meters at the local post office because many of the residents were older people who were wary of phone apps. But he said he liked the app because he could see how much power he was using and how much he had left.

Horizon Power also connected power to the community’s new business, a barramundi aquaculture farm that Mr Binsiar is running, which has the added benefit of providing the community with fresh drinking water through an osmosis system.