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Power bills ‘too high’

Residential electricity bills in NSW are about a fifth higher than they should be, according to a Kiama consultant.

Robert Barr is a qualified electrical engineer.

He founded Electric Power Consulting Pty. Ltd. in the early 1990s and now works with power supply companies such as Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy, as well as high use consumers such as the Manildra Group.

In June, Mr Barr was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia.

Dr Barr believes increases in electricity bills are the result of a combination of factors.

“In my opinion electricity bills are probably 20 per cent higher than they should be,” he said.

In what may surprise many, Dr Barr believes the proliferation of renewable energy sources, such as wind-farms and solar panels, had contributed to the rise in energy costs, rather than the opposite.

“People have a perception of wind turbines and photo-voltaic systems as a way to provide more efficient energy when actually that’s not the case,” he said.

“Because these systems produce electricity in intermittent ways depending on conditions, it means that energy companies have to upgrade their networks and systems to be able to handle that.

“Because they can’t provide the constant supply needed, they also have to have a ‘dancing partner’ in a conventional electricity generating system, which has to ramp up and back off what it’s generating depending on what the wind or solar system is producing.

“This causes the power station to be much less efficient.”

Dr Barr also said he believed the “boom or bust” model for upgrading power networks contributed to price rises.

“The way the electricity network is upgraded is very inefficient,” Dr Barr said.

“Instead of a steady capital investment, it’s boom or bust – the network is left alone then money is thrown at it to upgrade it past what is needed.

“That cost is then passed on to customers.

“We should be upgrading to be one step ahead of what we need, not 10 steps ahead.”

While these decisions might be out of the hands of residents, Dr Barr said consumers could still influence the size of their bills.

“We still need to focus on end-use efficiency, being more efficient in how we use electricity,” he said.

“Appliances these days have to meet minimum energy performance standards, which is a start, and they’re getting better and better.

“We need to encourage industries to have a look at their practices as well.”