Coronavirus has left many Tasmanians facing electricity bill shock. What can you do?
Many Tasmanians are receiving power bills that are much higher than they were last winter.
The State Opposition said it was hearing stories from “all corners of Tasmania” of families receiving bills for thousands of dollars.
For many, the reasons why are a combination of more time spent at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic and state-owned electricity company TasNetworks’ decision to estimate electricity usage during April and May, also because of coronavirus.
How have these factors led to higher bills?
It is no surprise that households would receive higher bills during the COVID-19 pandemic: people who would not normally heat their homes during the day found themselves working from home, and people were also home in the evenings more often.
The pandemic also led to TasNetworks suspending reading electricity meters in April and May. Bills for that period were estimated and based on a household’s, or small business’s, average usage from the same time last year.
People were spending more time at home from late March, when coronavirus restrictions came into effect, so their usage was generally much higher than it was during the same period last year.
Chief executive of Tasmania’s electricity retailer Aurora Energy Rebecca Kardos said those factors meant many estimated bills were under-estimated. The additional usage is being added to bills for the current billing period.
What can I do if I’m struggling to pay my latest electricity bill?
Aurora has an energy support program which can help develop an affordable payment plan for customers struggling to pay their bill. It also provides tips to save energy and reduce electricity costs.
Aurora also established a $5 million COVID-19 customer support program. Ms Kardos said there was still $4 million in the fund, which is being used to help people pay their energy bills. Support includes bill relief, waiving fees and charges, freezing debt and payment plans.
How can I save money on future energy bills?
University of Tasmania research fellow with the School of Technology, Environments and Design Philippa Watson has an interest in sustainable change in built environments, including energy efficiency.
Dr Watson said there was a range of measures that would help reduce electricity use, particularly for houses built before about 2004 when energy efficiency legislation for new-build homes came into effect in Tasmania.
She said renters often had the hardest time and were generally in poorer-quality housing, but could improve energy efficiency by draft-proofing doors and getting thick curtains. She said curtains could be expensive but second-hand shops were worth checking for cheaper options.
“There’s a couple of major things that are really worth paying attention to. We know that heating and hot water are huge chunks of people’s energy use in their home,” Dr Watson said.
She said people could check their heating and hot water use on their power bill if a heating and hot water tariff was applied, or she suggested taking shorter showers to see if that resulted in a lower bill.
“Heating’s a really big one … a lot of houses in Tasmania are still using very old heaters or just inefficient heaters,” she said.
Dr Watson said a heat pump was an efficient form of heating. And as for the theory that leaving a heat pump running constantly was more efficient, she said that was most probably a myth.
“Heat pumps can actually warm up quite quickly and they’re warming the air not people … turn your heat pump off while you’re not there, I think it’ll save you electricity.
“Each situation is different but that’s pretty much where we’ve all got to — turn it off when you’re not there.”
According to Aurora Energy, a temperature of 21C is best and it also recommends closing doors to rooms that are not being used.
Aurora also recommends turning heaters off overnight and, if possible, using timers to start them again in the morning.
For people who are considering what sort of heating to install in their home, Dr Watson said expert advice was essential to find the right heating for their space.
She said insulation also made a big difference to energy use.