We should all be able to heat our homes in winter, keep our food refrigerated, and enjoy a hot shower without worrying about being able to pay for it. Yet far too many Australians find themselves unable to afford the energy and hot water they need for a healthy and comfortable life.
Since the 1980s successive governments have privatised, corporatised, and deregulated many of the essential services people depend upon. Unaccountable CEOs have replaced elected representatives – and everyday people are paying the price. Private generators withhold supply and drive prices sky-high.34 Network companies abuse their monopoly over the poles and wires to increase prices further.35 And greedy retailers pad their profit margins by adding markups unrelated to the cost of service to their customers’ bills.
Energy is a fundamental necessity of modern life. And access to it should be guaranteed – free of charge. To do this, we need to replace the existing privatised tangle with a national, publicly-owned public-interest system that delivers 100% renewable, affordable energy to every single household in Australia.
Energy for every household:
A free connection to the electricity grid should be guaranteed to all. On top of this, the government should provide everyone with a sufficient daily energy allocation to keep the house lit, the food fresh and enough water warm to serve everyone’s needs. Using grid data and smart metering, the government can calculate the basic requirements for any given household, taking into account geography and family size.
A basic energy guarantee is common-sense. Currently, fixed fees make up a huge proportion of people’s electricity bills, with discounted rates given to heavy users. This is designed to incentivise maximum energy use – and boost the profits of energy corporations. Instead, we should provide the basics free of charge, and charge progressively more for those who use excessive amounts. By changing the current tariff structure, we can guarantee people’s basic energy needs – and recoup some of the cost through higher tariffs on heavy users.A public-interest energy system:
We can replace our dirty, expensive and unreliable energy system with one that delivers clean and affordable energy for all:
Federal investment in publicly owned renewable energy generation and storage: Australia already produces enough renewable energy to supply 70% of Australian homes. That comes as no surprise when solar and wind energy are now cheaper to build than coal, and the combination of renewables and storage is already cheaper than burning gas for electricity. We need to rapidly accelerate investment and get to 100% renewable energy by 2030.
An electricity grid owned and run in the public interest: Regulators have failed to stop network companies abusing their monopoly over the poles and wires. We should return that monopoly power to an elected government who can be voted out if they fail to run them well. Governments are also best placed to manage a smooth transition from a grid dominated by big, centralised power stations to one with lots of local rooftop solar and storage, and to ensure that old energy dinosaurs don’t use their market power to squash the newcomers.
A public option in the retail market with a mandate to provide 100% clean, affordable energy to households: Retail markups account for a significant portion of the price increases that have been forced on consumers in recent years. Corporate investors shouldn’t amass wealth at the expense of people who can’t afford to turn the heater on during winter – and a public option would force private sector retailers to compete at the lowest possible profit margins. Additionally, a public clean energy retailer could help households lower their usage by investing efficiency measures like solar panels or hot water systems – reducing costs and further cutting climate pollution.
34Bruce Mountain, “Dirty Power Games”, GetUp, 2016
35Nicky Ison & Miriam Lyons, “Homegrown Power Plan”, GetUp and Solar Citizens, April 2016