Probe on power prices ACCC to hold hear­ing on state- owned ‘ mo­nop­oly’

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS - TONY RAGGATT tony. raggatt@ news. com. au

A STATE Gov­ern­ment- owned en­ergy cor­po­ra­tion’s ef­fec­tive mo­nop­oly on re­tail pric­ing and al­leged anti- com­pet­i­tive poli­cies in re­gional Queens­land will come un­der the spot­light of an elec­tric­ity in­quiry fo­rum in Townsville on Mon­day.

The fo­rum is part of the Aus­tralian Com­pe­ti­tion and Con­sumer Com­mis­sion’s na­tional in­quiry into elec­tric­ity pric­ing which will also delve into al­le­ga­tions state- owned gen­er­a­tors have been gam­ing the mar­ket to boost prof­its and div­i­dends to gov­ern­ment at the ex­pense of consumers.

ACCC com­mis­sioner Roger Feather­ston told the Bul­letin com­plaints had been raised with the cor­po­rate watch­dog by busi­nesses con­cerned about an Er­gon En­ergy pol­icy pre­vent­ing the busi­nesses from switch­ing back if they chose to move to an­other re­tailer.

“That’s some­thing we will be look­ing at,” Mr Feather­ston said. “If that’s the case, we would re­gard that as a fairly anti- com­pet­i­tive pol­icy. It does seem to be an odd pol­icy.

“It would ap­pear to be de­signed to dis­cour­age cus­tomers from leav­ing Er­gon En­ergy.”

Mr Feather­ston said the ACCC would also in­ves­ti­gate the reg­u­lated mar­ket in re­gional Queens­land where the gov­ern­ment sub­sidised Er­gon to de­liver a uni­form tar­iff. He said the pol­icy pro­vided a big ad­van­tage to Er­gon and meant it dom­i­nated the re­tail mar­ket.

“One of the things we will be look­ing at is how that works and whether that’s a good thing and caus­ing other prob­lems,” he said. “It’s some­thing that’s un­usual when com­pared with other states.”

At­ten­tion has been fo­cused on Queens­land state- owned gen­er­a­tors Stan­well and CS En­ergy af­ter fed­eral En­ergy Min­is­ter Josh Fry­den­berg last month ac­cused them of us­ing their mar­ket power to raise whole­sale prices at peak de­mand pe­ri­ods.

While the gen­er­a­tors have de­nied do­ing any­thing il­le­gal, Queens­land for­ward con­tract whole­sale prices sud­denly fell 20 per cent when State En­ergy Min­is­ter Mark Bai­ley in June di­rected gen­er­a­tors to change their bid­ding prac­tices.

Mr Feather­ston said sev­eral sub­mis­sions had called for more gen­er­a­tors to lift com- pe­ti­tion and the ACCC’s pre­lim­i­nary think­ing was that they agreed with this.

“We do be­lieve it’s quite likely gen­er­a­tors can game the sys­tem, take ad­van­tage of the mar­ket, be­cause the gen­er­a­tion mar­ket is so con­cen­trated,” he said. “There should be more com­pe­ti­tion. The ques­tion is how or where that can be achieved.”

The ACCC is en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to at­tend the Townsville fo­rum, which will be held at Ry­dges from 5- 7pm on Mon­day. For more in­for­ma­tion visit www. accc. gov. au

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