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Lessons Learned: What's Happened in Australia

12.  Lessons Learned: What's Happened in Australia

Australia has been rolling out smart meters before the U.S., and so here are some articles showing what problems they've encountered with them as a result.  These include the reports of public safety hazards (resident gets electrically shocked from meter) due to faulty installations, enormously higher utility bills, and the need to have flat rate versus Time Of Use (TOU) rate schemes.  As a result, the smart metering program is being audited and may be suspended:

In Australia, Victoria’s State Government has ordered a review of the territory’s smart meter rollout, which could result in the suspension of the smart meter deployment. So far, about 300,000 meters have been deployed. The $2 billion system, commissioned by the previous Labour Government, is being rolled out to every household and business in Victoria. But the Government says the costs of replacing the old meters is a hardship on families and suggest that the benefits of smart meters may have been exaggerated.

Energy Minister Michael O’Brien has warned that he might suspend the program. “At this stage I don’t know whether suspending it is feasible, the last thing I want to do as Minister is un-necessarily add to the blown out costs of this project.  But I’ll make a decision once I’ve received that advice. To some extent the smart meter project is all a bit like Myki, it’s got a lot of problems and a lot of cost blow-outs but so much money has already been spent on it that it’s gonna be very hard to go back to square one and start again.”

The government estimates that households will be charged $900 each for smart meter over the next decade. Outer suburban residents will be charged almost $110 this year. Regulators approved an annual fee of $57.70 to be spread across quarterly bills, for outer north and eastern Victoria.

O’Brien told the Herald Sun that the new Government would fulfil its election promise for an unbiased audit of the program, which has been criticized with allegations of mismanagement. “If there are skeletons in the closet, I want them on the table.”

Source: Smart Meters, Telling It Like It Is: "Smart Meters under Fire in Victoria," January 4, 2011, http://www.smartmeters.com/the-news/1482-smart-meters-under-fire-in-victoria.html

Consumers are as angry and upset about the installations there as they are here. More than
35 listeners wrote in their concerns and anger when a local radio station did a show on wireless smart meters:

This ridiculous Smart Meter rollout MUST be stopped! What kind of country are we living in where we are forced to pay for something we do not even want to purchase? Not to mention the additional RF radiation that we will be subjected to against our will. It is outrageous! Why on earth, when scientists are telling us to err on the side of caution with this technology, and keep these kinds of radiofrequency emitting devices away from our children, the sick, and the elderly, are we forced to install them in our own homes? Once again, we are being dictated to by government and industry...what has happened to our democratic nation?
Mel Thursday 10 February, 2011

More of us need to make those in charge of the installation rollout aware that we seriously opposed to this half baked scheme.
I registered an objection with the company involved in the rollout in our area. I was told that even though we have lodged an objection, the installers would still turn up and if no one was home the meter would be changed regardless.
Does this mean we have to resort to some form of civil disobedience in order to retain rights regarding our own property?
It is a matter of urgency that the minister moves and gives clear direction in this growing debacle
Lynda Thursday 10 February, 2011

Source: To listen to the show and also read more listener comments, visit the 3AW 693 News Talk radio show: "Do Not Fit A Smart Meter!"  February 8, 2011, website page, found on-line here, http://www.3aw.com.au/blogs/3aw-generic-blog/do-not-fit-a-smart-meter/20110208-1akyx.html

Radio show host Neil Mitchell of 3AW 693 News Talk wrote an Editorial about some of the problems with wireless smart meters and the measures that residents  have had to resort to protect themselves:

THERE'S the whiff of revolt in streets across Victoria and the people are right.

 They shouldn't be forced to have technicians fiddle in their electricity system, installing equipment they don't want, may not need, and do not trust.

It's all about smart meters. If the new State Government wants to define its management beyond photo opportunities it will immediately suspend this scheme until it's properly understood and more strictly regulated.

These meters may eventually prove a good idea. But as of today there's no choice. They are mandatory. That imposes serious obligations on those who are forcing them into 2.5 million homes and businesses...

Meanwhile, installations continue, and people grow nervous. An old man in Ringwood has threatened to set his dogs on installers, and another more benign bloke wants to turn the garden hose on them.

These are not the type of people to man barricades and campaign for civil disobedience.

They are average Victorians with questions and doubts, and until answered they're right to be concerned. It's nonsense for the Government to continue to install the system at the same time it is reviewing its survival.

There have been specific grizzles about the compulsion, privacy and accuracy. All are legitimate issues and there's reason to suspect some meters are not properly programmed.

But the main worry now is safety.

Christine McIntosh is a Highett woman brave enough to turn on her garden tap after her meter was installed. She received a shock that could have been fatal. Her entire house was electrified.

...Now, again, whistleblowers are stepping forward. They say training is inadequate, and supervision rare. It's made worse because 75 per cent of installers are paid per job, not by salary.

A work sheet leaked from one company shows that a handful of workers billed for installing 30 meters in an eight-hour day while others managed only 15.

Experts say to fit a meter in 40 minutes is normal. So how do some manage one every 15 minutes? And is their work safe?

They're paid per job so they're making a reasonable dollar. But are they doing a reasonable job?

Installers, who are not A-grade electricians, are expected to report problems with wiring and wait for the qualified person to attend. How many people on piece work will be happy to stand around waiting? They won't, and potentially dangerous wiring will continue to be dangerous.

Source: Herald Sun, "Suspend the smart meter rollout now," February 08, 2011, http://www.heraldsun.com.au/opinion/suspend-the-smart-meter-rollout-now/story-e6frfhqf-1226001865756.

Public Safety Hazards & Faulty Installations

As in California and elsewhere, wireless smart meters bring reports of faulty installation creating serious public safety dangers, including the home electrocution of a  resident:

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) has criticised the industry regulator, Energy Safe, claiming it is allowing unqualified subcontractors to install smart meters in Victoria.

The union says many of the workers installing smart meters are subcontractors and there has been no scrutiny of their qualifications.

Last month, a Melbourne woman got an electric shock from a smart meter that was incorrectly installed.

The ETU's state secretary, Dean Mighell, says he will discuss the issue with the Victorian Energy Minister, Michael O'Brien, today.

"We've got workers reported as doing 30 jobs in a day which is humanly impossible," he said.

"It airs some suspicion that people are actually doing work under one workers name but three or four people are working under the one worker's name.

"This is really really dangerous stuff."

Source: ABC News: "Safety fears plague smart meters," February 9, 2011, http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/02/09/3133722.htm.  

This newspaper reported more in detail how a contractor failed to check wiring after installing a smart meter in August at Milena Adams' home. 

VICTORIA'S energy regulator has conceded smart meter contractors might lack required skills and is reviewing the qualifications of workers rolling out the $2 billion scheme.

The Sunday Age can also reveal that, in the course of their work, smart meter installers have identified dangerous and possibly life-threatening electrical hazards in 3500 Victorian homes.

...Milena Adams said after her smart meter was installed, light globes exploded and household appliances dimmed her lights. She says that in December, her son received a shock when touching a shower tap. The electricity company CitiPower checked her house immediately.

Source: The Age: "Smart meter shock: electrical hazards found in 3500 homes," February 13, 2011, http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/smart-meter-shock-electrical-hazards-found-in-3500-homes-20110212-1are0.html?from=age_sb

There is also this report about an incorrect smart meter installation shorting out power at the home of a 75-year-old man, who wants to be reimbursed for the cost of his $300 in groceries that were ruined thanks to the shoddy installation and outage.

Read more details and listen to the radio show here: 3AW 693 News Talk, "More Meter Madness," February 14, 2011, http://www.3aw.com.au/blogs/3aw-generic-blog/more-meter-madness/20110214-1at6r.html

As a result, an investigation has been launched. 

Australia’s electrical industry body, the National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA) says it welcomes Energy Safe Victoria’s (ESV) plan an audit of both the qualifications of installers and the processes they follow when installing smart meters in Victoria. The audit comes after a resident was shocked after their smart meter was installed. Energy Safe Victoria is investigating this incident.

Source: Smart Meters, Telling It Like It Is: "Australia to Audit Smart Meter Safety, February 10, 2011, http://www.smartmeters.com/the-news/1546-australia-to-audit-smart-meter-safety.html

Nightmare Stories:
Families Suffer Economic Hardship
and Must Revert Back to"Dark Ages"
Due to "Outrageous"Utility Bills

As in other places where smart meters have been installed, there's an alarming number of dramatically (and frighteningly high) utility bills that result.  Is it due to inaccurate meters?  Faulty data collection?  This engineer blames the rate scheme, and warns consumers to change their time of use when the consume energy:

FORMER electrician John Stevenson, of Wyong, reckons smart meters might not be all they’re cracked up to be and hold pitfalls for the unaware.

...“These are very clever things which can measure at what time of day power is being used and charge you according to peak, off-peak and shoulder periods of usage.

“On the face of it this could be a good thing, but the peak period, of course, is between 2pm and 10pm, when the Kw/hour rate triples from the off-peak period and this is when most people use the bulk of their power.”

Mr Stevenson said people on the meters had the option to revert to the standard usage rates, but it had taken him weeks to organise the change and some people might not be aware of the option.

“We actually saw our power bill rise despite installing the solar panels,” he said. He advised people to make sure they were fully aware of the system before having a smart meter installed.

Timed usage charges see a low off-peak rate of 14 cents a Kw/hour between midnight and 7am rise to 17 cents between 7am-2pm and 10pm-midnight. The peak period of 2pm-10pm is 42 cents a Kw/hour.

Source: Read the Express Advocate, "Electrician points out pitfalls of new smart meters," September 29, 2010, found on-line at:  http://express-advocate-wyong.whereilive.com.au/news/story/electrician-points-out-pitfalls-of-new-smart-meters/

How high are the bills after a smart meter is installed?  The Express Advocate wrote a newspaper article about families receiving "outrageous" bills:

Since the Express Advocate reported the case of Mark Corben and his family - whose bill skyrocketed from $200 to $2000 - we have been flooded with similar complaints.

Many families are seeing bills double or triple over the same period last year.

This is way above the 10 per cent price hike they were told to expect this financial year.

Mr Corben has since had his bill adjusted with EnergyAustralia spokesman Allyn Hamonet confirming the family’s smart meter reading was correct and the error had occurred with the service provider.

Mr Corben said his bill had dropped back to $269 and he had been offered a $50 rebate as goodwill by his provider, AGL.

But tales of other householders facing outrageous bills continue to pour in.

EnergyAustralia claimed the price surge was not because of faulty meter readings or the introduction of smart meters.

It blamed increased usage. But many complainants say they have cut usage.

Source: Express Advocate, "Shockwave of complaints over huge surge in power bills," September 29, 2010, found on-line at: http://express-advocate-wyong.whereilive.com.au/news/story/shockwave-of-complaints-over-huge-surge-in-power-bills/

In fact, reader response generated from this story abounded with nightmare stories of ridiculously higher bills,  awful customer service and response standards and practices, and the economic and tragic hardships these higher bills are creating on average and below average families, despite their efforts to reduce energy usage and make their homes more energy efficient.  These are the horror stories that national consumer advocates here in the U.S. predicted and worried about when smart metering technologies were proposed, but these are now real.  Do you want this to happen to you? 

Dianne Pearce writes:
Posted on 23 Jan 11 at 08:38am
Short of not turning lights on and cooking, I don't know how else to save power. We are going back to the dark ages where will be using candles and have not air con or heating other than fuel. I am interested in any petition as are others here to try to make the government take notice that people cannot afford this. What about the poor pensioners. I couldn't live on their income.

Shellie May writes:
Posted on 8 Nov 10 at 10:35am
How do we stop this! MY family is cannot get ahead because we keep getting grossly high bills!! Is there going to be some sort of fight against this because Ive treid doing it on my own and end up getting laughed at!!

trixie writes:
Posted on 22 Oct 10 at 12:41pm

these bills r a huge rip off i got a new bill $400 my mum is paying the other $400 which makes $800 plus $350 rent its not right at all weve gotta pay for other stuff as well iam always fearing about my pension cut off cause of these greedy selfish companys who dont give a damm about u ive just help payed other bills its not fair its not write i heard some people gone homeless and cut off thier power cause they cant afford to pay it all

J McLaren writes:
Posted on 10 Oct 10 at 12:39pm
received my April electricity account and was surprised by a 2nd bill in excess of $1000. In Mya, a serviceman appeared and said he had to change our meter as they had not been able to get a read for the last 2 periods. He said to contact billing in a week and get them to do an actual read so they could adjust my account. I phoned on 28 May, 23 June, 6 August and 21 September and was told on each occassion they would action this. On 23 September I received online an amended account for that period - $665.25 a huge difference of $353.37. I thought that was it all reolved. Then in the mail I received another amended account for the same period for $921.10. Then on Friday I received online an account for $2674 which when I went to print out displayed that "this bill has been recalled". I am convinced Energy Australia is just plucking numbers from the air and I cannot get this resolved on the phone - every time I call I have to start from the beginning and the stories I get back are different each time. I'll definitely join in any class action. Jim McLaren

Rosemary writes:
Posted on 5 Oct 10 at 08:32pm
The hike in power bills are so outrageous (mine went from 350 to 720 for the SAME usage) that I'm looking to begin a class action group in my area. Not only have they doubled, but when i tried to find out the actual reason for the hikes, and who decides it's ok, no one has much of a clue. I was also told that my consumption should be cut down, - use a blanket and get thicker curtains and so forth. The thing that people should wake up to is the relation to the ETS. We are being charged ahead of time for something that isn't in place yet. We are being bullied and ripped off by the corporate controllers of our resources. We can and we MUST stop this madness. It should be going down, not up. Life should improve with technology and wisdom not become harder.
j. supple writes:
Posted on 4 Oct 10 at 11:24am
We had our meter read again by our power company because our last bill was $1400 and we live in a 2 beedroom apartment... since that has happerned (2weeks) our new refreshed power bill is $1700! This cant be correct?! we use cold water when washing clothes, we dont use the heaters anymore, we have one fridge, our showers take 4 mins... we dont even use half the appliances in our home anymore in fear that we cant afford the bloody power bill!! SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE!
tracey hannigan writes:
Posted on 1 Oct 10 at 02:35pm
i think a class action should be set up i have a family of 7 my highest bill ever was $500 and thiss bill has gone up to $907 we cut back on a lot of power because off the increse how can anyone pay that much when only on centrelink payments
Heather Ingram writes:
Posted on 1 Oct 10 at 12:48pm
I think the idea of a class action against all the energy companies should be taken up by all residents: we too turn off most power points, change globes, wash in cold water, etc, and now our latest bill has gone from $199 to $615. When we queried the bill, of course it was correct according to AGL. We also are installing solar panels and I am petrified that the bills won't reduce as promised due to AGL increasing costs anyway. Yes, anyone wanting to follow up with a class action I am interested.
David Pennell writes:
Posted on 29 Sep 10 at 08:29am
I agree with everyone about being ripped off with huge electricity bills. I live in Kariong with my wife and 4 children. Due to having a big family we are very carefull with our electicity usage and with the news of a 10% increase we made a lot of changes within the last quarter. We fitted energy saving light bulbs through out the whole house, only used 2 x 40 watt lamps in the afternoon, limited showers to only 2 minutes, turned of all applainces at the wall that were not being use, no dryer and washing machine and dishwasher turned to cold water in use. blankets and extra clothes instead of running heaters. On top of this we paid an extra $200 in advance as a buffer to compensate the 10% increase. To our shock and horror we received our bill last week for a stagering $1510. I just can see how this is right or justifiied. How on earth can people afford to pay for these bills? Something needs to happen as a matter of urgency. We are meant to be living in the lucky country but i don't feel very lucky at all and guess what? we also have a digital meter...makes you wonder.
In September 2010, the Express Advocate newspaper reported on the Corben family, which got an increase from $200 to $2000 for their electricity usage:

THEY knew the cost of electricity was going up but the Corben family, of Niagara Park, were staggered when they copped an increase from $200 to $2000.

Their power bill rose by 1000 per cent - to almost $24 a day - following installation of an EnergyAustralia “smart meter”.

“We are extremely careful with our electricity,” Mark Corben said.

“Over recent years our bills have averaged about $200 a quarter and our June bill was $239.

“Imagine our amazement to open our September bill for the amount of $2069.”

Mr Corben said he and wife Deb had been notified by mail of the “upgrade” of their electricity meter on July 22.

They can only think the installation of a “smart meter” caused the huge energy surge which resulted in the exorbitant bill.

“If anything our power should have gone down since the previous quarter,” he said.

“We have hardly used the airconditioner in the winter quarter, relying on our wood fire for heating.

“We have energy saver switches on the airconditioner and our new washing machine and a timer on the shower. We are even looking at solar power - we are extremely energy conscious.”

Mr Corben said the idea that electricity consumption in an average three-bedroom family home occupied only by himself, his wife, and their son Riley, 11 months, could rise by $1800 in one quarter was ludicrous.

“Our service provider, AGL, has agreed to freeze the account while the matter is investigated,” he said.

“But I worry others might be paying more than they should because of these smart meters.”

Source: Express Advocate, "Electricity bill soars from $200 to $2000 thanks to `smart meter'," September 21, 2010, http://express-advocate-wyong.whereilive.com.au/news/story/electricity-bill-soars-from-200-to-2000-thanks-to-smart-meter-1/.

Mr. Corben's worries became reality, when readers responded to the article above by sharing their similar horror stories:

tammy crew writes:
Posted on 24 Sep 10 at 07:27pm
my latest power bill is $1019.... and im a single mum of three kids that went without heating due to the last bill before this one being $500. Cannot work out how my power bill has doubled when all kitchen appliances are unplugged after every use,and every other appliance in my house is also turned off after use. I almost died when i got the bill for $500,,can imagine my reaction when i opened the next one and it was DOUBLED again,,my usual bills were always around $250-$300.

Jordan s writes:
Posted on 24 Sep 10 at 07:23pm
I live in a 2 bedroom apartment with my mother. Our power bill is always around the $200-290 mark. Our Lovely new bill is $1600!! when i rang my power company they didnt care and told me its because i have a heater (we use once in a blue moon). How can a power bill be $290 and then in the same year be $1600? Thanks everyone for sharing your stories.

Daryl Wright writes:
Posted on 23 Sep 10 at 09:40am
See I'm not alone in having to deal with these people. My bill went from an average $5.00 per day to over $23.00 per day for no reason whatsoever. I didn't use any heating in the house during the billing period, was alone in the house and only used lights wherever I was present, don't cook etc., Was told when making enquiries that they don't make mistakes... like everyone else here, and not only was billed for them to read the meter again, but it was bundled with an updated bill! Along with dealing with all of the others in Australia (and the Central Coast) since we bought this home, we're about ready to sell up and move back overseas. I've had a gut-full.

Shanley Hacking writes:
Posted on 22 Sep 10 at 07:28pm
I had a bill arrive it was almost $2000 also. My bills are usually between $400 - $600 every quater. Certainly not $2000.
I rang to complain to have it looked at - I receive my bills from ORIGIN ENERGY. They didnt care, not one bit. I told them there is no way I could use that much power that there must be some mistake. I was told they were not wrong, that was what I have to pay.
Im still trying to pay it off, every quater, I get another bill around $500. This just gets added, I just keep trying to pay each week. I think my bills ended up around $3000, Im finally now down to just over a thousand.
But they were not willing to listen, They said the meter doesnt lie.
Go figure!!!!!
There is nothing I could do about it. Im just the small one amoung these huge companies.

paul oconnor writes:
Posted on 22 Sep 10 at 02:25pm
i rang them and they give you no answers as to why also my down stairs neighbor who is a single bills are normally $230 she just got one for $800plus she has a 15 month old baby and lives on a pension as well are we suppose not to eat and live like animals because we are on pensions and not be given a fair go by these money hungry company's do they even care ? they also said they read the meter we no for fact they did not they money hungry mongrels who nothing about other people only lining there own pockets with huge wages for the CEO's please help us we are not the only ones suffering because of this kind regards paul oconnor

Nicole Cambridge writes:
Posted on 22 Sep 10 at 11:45am
I also have received my first $900 electricty bill. We now have reverse cycle air con for the first time (we usually use gas) which we were using for heating but i was no where prepared for $900 we received. If these things really cost that much to use they should come with a warning note on them not to use them!!! I was prepared for about $500-$600 but no way was i prepared for what i got.
We have never previously receieved a bill over $380.Worst bit is i am not working atm and i really do wish there was a better way to confirm our usage is ours without taking someone elses word for it. And even if it was faulty how would i know?

I can garantee you since we recieved that bill the blankets have came out and the heating is staying off!
However if we receive another high bill next month i will definetly know it wasnt the bloody reverse cycle air con and i will be jumping up and down screaming!

Nina Angelo writes:
Posted on 22 Sep 10 at 11:18am

My Electricity Bill went up by over 100%. When we queried this, we were asked to read the meter to the lady on the phone and our reading was less than what was written down as our reading 10 days before.. we were given $100 off... thats all... go figure!!! they have us over a barrel..

A few months before the public uproar, in April 2010, the news media reported the problems with the utility's Time of Use (TOU) rate scheme, and how it had made changes to make it optional:

The issue NSW customers are facing, is the peak time period (highest prices) that Energy Australia are enforcing on these customers is across the time of day when a customers usage (especially a family) is likely to be highest - typically 2pm to 8pm.

Customers are less than happy about this as they feel they are being hit with significant prices hikes, and some are.  Energy Australia however suggest that 70% of customers using smart meters will end up paying less for their energy than those on a flat rate - probably demonstrating that bad news travels a lot faster than good.

Energy Australia have now allowed customers to choose between a 'time of use' charging structure and a 'flat rate' set of prices. This is a sensible choice for Energy Australia - there's a clear need to get customers onboard, then improve the level of education about the benefits of smart meters.

Source: Make It Cheaper: "Energy Australia Smart Meters causing customer complaint," April 23, 2010, http://www.makeitcheaper.com.au/blog/business-electricity/energy-australia-smart-meters-causing-customer-complaint-11420

However, as evidenced in the news reports and consumer comments cited above, this change implemented by Energy Australia did not stop the complaints and major problems experienced by their ratepayers.


DISCUSSION OF MAIN CONCERNS: Read these and helpful information about the wireless smart meter issue -- click each of the discussion items below. 

1.  First and Foremost: Are Wireless Meters Mandatory?

2.  Smart Meters Unite Consumers, Citizens and Residents from Opposite Backgrounds and Political Affiliations

3.  Actions Being Taken: What Are Consumers Doing To Protect Their Civil Liberties and Affirm Their Rights to Refuse or Opt Out?

4.  Going Deep: Understanding the Big Picture and Real Costs and Concerns, Helpful News Reports and Consumer Advocacy Reports and Analysis

5.  Smart Meter Consumers Anger Grows Over Higher Utility Bills

6.  Privacy and Security Concerns Still Unresolved

7.  Health Concerns Grow: Consumers Are Getting Sick From Wireless Smart Meters

8.  Consumers Report Public Safety Hazards and Interference Problems

9. Cities and States Outside of California Pull Back

10. Resident Campaigns In Other States

11. Options

12. Lessons Learned: What's Happened in Australia

13. Lessons Learned: Major Problems for Canada

14. Actions You Can Take & Other Helpful Organizations and Websites