Today Tonight electricity bill rip off: Off Peak power

Thank you Today Tonight for informing me of the latest electricity company rip off: off peak power. (Not.)

Once again TT managed to take a rather mundane topic and whip it up in a nonsensical frenzy. Result: customers even more confused and angry than before.

Now I'll have to explain what's actually going on:

Regular old Off Peak power

Off peak power to run hot water systems has been around for a long time. This is what most people will think of when off peak is mentioned.

Some facts:

  • It's normally called 'Off Peak 1' or 'Off Peak 2'
  • You can identify this easily on your bill (it is itemised if you have it)
  • It is only connected to your hot water system
  • You will not save money by switching other appliance over to run in the middle of the night. They remain on your regular tariff.

Electricity tariffs in NSW

For a while there the reporter started to talk facts by putting the different tariff structures on the screen. But that just confuses the issue even more because they were talking about it as if everyone has the same rates.

In NSW there are three electricity network companies. Each company covers a particular area of the state. Tariffs are regulated according to these areas. So, tariff structure vary depending on where you live.

New tariff structures (time-of-use or 'smart' metering)

Energy Australia power smart time-of-useThe first half of the TT piece was thoroughly misleading, because many customers aleady have new 'smart meters' fitted. Smart meters are not actually that smart, but they do allow for different tariffs at different times of the day (see an example bill on the left).

Some facts:

  • Smart metering can be identified on your bill by the words 'Power Smart,' 'TOU' for 'time-of-use' or similar
  • It involves three distinct tariffs: off peak, should and peak (see above)
  • You will save significant amounts of money by turning appliances on after 10pm as opposed to using them in the afternoon on weekdays.

Combined tariff structures

To add another layer of complexity: you can in fact have both 'regular off peak' and the new 'time-of-use' style metering on the one bill! Again, to uncover this all you need to do is have a look at your bill.

If you see "Off Peak 1" listed separately to "Off Peak," "Shoulder" and "Peak," then you have this situation.

The benefits of this include:

  • You know exactly how much of your energy is going to hot water (because it is the only consumption on "Off Peak 1"
  • Off Peak 1 tariffs are actually cheaper than Off Peak under the smart meter regime.

I hope that clarifies this issue a little.

This article was written in response to a story titled "Electricity Rip Off" aired on Today Tonight in NSW this evening (4th April 2011).

- Ryan McCarthy

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