By Cole Latimer Sydney Morning Herald (22 January 2019)
The energy watchdog has slapped two electricity companies with fines of $40,000 each after they cut power to people on life support.
Queensland-based distributor Energex and ACT poles and wires company Evoenergy were fined after they potentially put lives at risk during planned outages by failing to warn customers on life support their power would be cut ahead of time.
“Protection of life support customers is a high priority as the consequences of an unexpected loss of supply for customers who rely on life support equipment can be dangerous or even fatal,” Australian Energy Regulator chairman Paula Conboy said.
“We take alleged breaches of the life support provisions very seriously and investigate them thoroughly.”
Offenders are fined $20,000 for each breach of their obligations under the National Energy Retail Rules.
Energy Consumers Australia chief executive Rosemary Sinclair said electricity distributors need to do better for these at-risk customers.
“Power companies need to work harder to ensure people with life support equipment are getting the individualised energy service and support they need and that power is available when they need it,” she said.
Energex said despite the power cuts, the customers were not seriously affected.
“Energex contacted the customers involved in each of the incidents and at no time was their health impacted,” an Energex spokeswoman said.
“In the first instance, in May 2018, the impacted customer lost power for less than one minute and was not at home at the time. In the second instance, in June 2018, the customer was not notified of the planned interruption due to human error during the scoping process for the work.”
Energex has been a repeat offender and has received at least $60,000 in fines annually since 2016 for cutting off power to people on life support without proper warning.
The AER said Energex has been the only distributor that has been fined every year since 2016 for this offence.
Late last year, the AER demanded Energex carry out an independent audit to ensure it has effective systems in place to ensure customers on life support are warned of power cuts.
The review found Energex complied with life support requirements.
Evoenergy said its notifications were handled by an automated system which had failed in these two instances.
“Evoenergy contacted both of the affected life-support customers to apologise as soon as it became aware of the error,” an Evoenergy spokeswoman said.
“These customers confirmed that the outage did not pose a safety concern and that they were not negatively impacted. These two customers were without power for four hours and one hour.”
These fines come ahead of new rules enacted from February 1 which will increase the obligations for energy companies to support customers reliant on life support equipment.
“These new rules are designed to allocate responsibilities clearly and appropriately between retailers and distributors and improve the accuracy of life support registers,” the AER said.
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