New Report: Put people first to deliver affordable, reliable and clean energy

31 July 2017

A new report out today calls on the Australian Government to put people first and end the deadlock on energy transition to ensure people on low-income and experiencing disadvantage have access to affordable, reliable and clean energy into the future.

The report Empowering disadvantaged households to access affordable, clean energy was produced by the Australian Council of Social Service, Brotherhood of St Laurence and The Climate Institute after consulting with over 120 community, environment and energy experts across Australia from March – June 2017.

The consultations identified a raft of energy and non-energy market policies needed to achieve five outcomes if Australia is to resolve increasing energy poverty, including: cheaper clean energy, empowered consumers, improved household efficiency and productivity, stronger consumer protection, and improved capacity to pay bills.

In launching the report, ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie is calling on elected leaders to end the blame-shifting and politicking.

Currently there are about 3 million people, including over 731,000 children, living below the poverty line in Australia. The number of people who struggle with energy stress is likely to be much higher than the poverty figures.

“It’s clear we need to transition to modern clean energy in line with our Paris commitment. We must also urgently relieve pressure on people who cannot cope with rising energy prices,” says Dr Goldie.

“There has been a fundamental failure to provide adequate measures to reduce energy stress, and deliver a national coordinated stable energy and climate policy which is a major factor in pushing up energy prices.

“Rising electricity prices are a slap in the face for households already struggling with increasing costs of living, slow wage growth and unemployment.

“Efforts to provide access to affordable, reliable and clean energy are failing and low-income and disadvantaged households are bearing the brunt.

“Governments must listen to people’s very deep concerns about energy prices and make the transition to clean energy equitable and affordable for everyone.

“We need a mechanism to end uncertainty and incentivise the transition to clean energy, and the allocation of costs for this must be equitable.

“The government must also urgently address energy affordability now for people on low incomes, including reviewing income adequacy particularly for people receiving Newstart allowances and pensions, and for people on low wages.

“We already have almost 3 million people living in poverty in Australia.

“We need to provide urgent relief for thousands of people suffering as a result of energy stress, and map a way forward now to ensure those numbers don’t increase further.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence’s head of energy and climate change, Damian Sullivan said action is long overdue.

“We hear harrowing accounts of the impacts of higher energy costs,” said Mr Sullivan.

“As people struggle to pay their bills many are forced to go without other basic needs to the detriment of their health.

“We’ve had people in our programs who don’t have hot water because they can’t afford to get it fixed.

“Others report going to bed early so as not to put the heater on. Some families are already having their electricity or gas disconnected.

“Some of the measures recommended in this Report can give immediate relief for families as well as help reduce power bills long-term through energy efficiency, installing rooftop solar, and well-targeted concessions.

“Unless there is a nationally coordinated plan that is fair and inclusive – and far better integration between climate, energy and social policy – vulnerable households will be left behind.

“Australia can do better. Energy is an essential service, so we must make clean energy available and affordable for all.”

“This is an historic opportunity for our governments to get ahead of the game and make Australia a better country for all,” Dr Goldie concluded. “Federal and State governments must work together now on one of the most pressing issues of our times, by better aligning climate, energy and social policy.”

Download the Report: Empowering disadvantaged households to access affordable, clean energy  


Report findings in Brief

Five outcomes were identified as necessary to support low-income and disadvantage households as we transition to clean energy, requiring policies to:

  •     Deliver cheaper clean energy,
  •     Empower consumers,
  •     Improve household efficiency and productivity,
  •     Provide stronger consumer protection, and
  •     Improve capacity to pay bills.

Within the five outcomes the report suggests a number of urgent reforms, while noting other reforms will also be necessary. These include non-energy market solutions that immediately and positively impact people on low incomes, such as:

  • Increase Newstart, youth allowances, student allowances, and other social security payments so that everybody has the capacity to pay their energy bills.
  • Improve access to energy concessions, and increase the amount of energy concessions, including shifting to a percentage-based concession to support people who are most vulnerable
  • Increase support for energy efficiency upgrades and installation of rooftop solar for low income households.
  • Implement minimum energy efficiency standards on rental properties.
  • Support local place-based support services to inform and enable vulnerable households to engage with the energy market.

There also needs to be energy market reforms to end uncertainty and which are more inclusive and equitable, such as:

  • Incentivise the transition to large scale clean energy (such as a clean energy target, emissions intensity scheme etc)
  • Develop a plan to manage coal generator retirement and replacement in the interests of the workers, affected communities and energy consumers.
  • Ensure everyone pays their fair share for clean affordable electricity by addressing the inequitable allocation of clean energy policies and other energy costs
  • Deliver more efficient, cleaner, accessible and affordable electricity for all by implementing inclusive and equitable network policies that support a greater use of demand management and distributive energy, alongside large scale generation
  • Review harmful disconnection laws and scope of hardship programs, and expand and improve energy consumer protections

Download the Report: Empowering disadvantaged households to access affordable, clean energy