Energy companies lashed at inquiry

Power companies have been criticised for putting profits before people after a day of Senate hearings on Australia’s controversial and increasingly troubled energy network.


Committee chair, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said it was clear that power companies had little regard for customers and were more interested in running up massive profits than providing an essential service.

“It’s clear that energy companies are more interested in lining their pockets than providing electricity to South Australians,” Senator Hanson-Young said after the hearings in Adelaide on Monday.

Her comments followed heatwave conditions across SA earlier this month which forced 90,000 properties to be blacked out – 60,000 of those in error because of a software glitch – as authorities scrambled to reduce load on the electricity network.

The Senate committee heard that SA Power Networks was still investigating the problem and that the company did not reveal the error until it was highlighted in a report into the incident more than a week later by the Australian Energy Market Operator.

The committee was also told that a second gas-fired power unit in Adelaide operated by electricity generator Engie remained unviable, for the regular supply of electricity, after being mothballed several years ago.

The South Australian government has blamed the decision not to turn on the second Pelican Point unit as the reason for the load shedding.

But Engie spokesman Jim Kouts told the inquiry that under the current arrangements the company had to be directed by the Australian Energy Market Operator to bring the unit online and received no such direction on the day of the load shedding.

It fired up the generation unit the next day, in similar heatwave conditions, after a direction from AEMO and provided electricity for about four hours.

Mr Kouts said he had “great empathy” for people who lost power during the heatwave.

“We’re all part of the community,” he said.

“Who wants to see brown-outs? No one does. Electricity is an essential service.”

But Mr Kouts rejected suggestions power companies were “gaming the system” and defended the operation of the electricity market, despite its obvious challenges.

“The market is not broken. The power is on,” he said.

Another generating company AGL failed to front the Senate inquiry with it’s decision not to attend relayed to the committee by email.

Senator Hanson-Young was not impressed, accusing the company of “thumbing its nose” at South Australians.

“It’s pretty bad form,” she said.