It is both an irony and harsh lesson that within decades of the privatisation of the energy sector, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has delivered one of its most scathing reports yet on how the customer has been let down.
In the damning report, the ACCC says consumers faced a confusing and unfair market, discounts were misleading, sometimes deliberately so, and customers really needed a benchmark rate set by the Australian Energy Regulator to compare retail prices.
To this end, while the the ACCC has backed the National Energy Guarantee as a force to help drive reform, it also wants increased market regulation with beefed up powers for the regulator to govern and police these transgressions.
The provision of what once would have been considered a basic service has risen 56 per cent in real terms over 10 years.
Household power bills up, 35 per cent over the same period, had only been kept down because so many people had sought alternative power sources and installed solar panels.
The culprits are many. Energy retailers took advantage of higher prices to reap even more money from households and businesses.
Those who had taken to the internet in search of a better deal still found themselves at the mercy of the companies, with price comparison websites taking commissions and not providing a full range of offers.
The report did not spare network owners either, who it accused of using the Limited Merits Review scheme to appeal price decisions and scam billions of dollars back from customers.
It also laid blame squarely at the federal government’s feet for a failure to create policy certainty that had resulted in companies’ reluctance to invest in new power generation. It made some strong recommendations on the dangers of a monopoly market with a recommendation to cap any further mergers or acquisitions to a maximum of 20 per cent market share.
It also wants government re-involved in the sector it sold off so blithely, recommending governments effectively underwrite the construction of new power sources by guaranteeing long-term contracts for large industrial and commercial users.
The challenge remains for a riven federal government to achieve the triple goal of guaranteeing reliability, cutting emissions and bringing down prices.