Extreme Weather and Natural Disaster- Responses by Energy Retailers

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Extreme weather events as we are seeing in NSW and QLD should be front of mind for energy sellers in the context of the provision of essential services. In this post, we set out what energy retailers must and should do in response to such events.

Electrical safety

One of the key risks of flooding is electrical safety. On Monday, Master Electricians Australia issued an urgent warning of injuries and potentially deaths from solar panels and other electrical equipment resulting from flooding. The warning noted that solar panels continue to produce electricity even after power has been cut off and panels have been turned off at the switch board. Energy sellers operating in embedded networks, as exempt network providers, should consult with the local DNSP and electrical engineers to implement appropriate controls.

For on market retailers operating in NECF jurisdictions, the National Energy Retail Rules and Law contain provisions relating to extreme weather events. An extreme weather event is defined in rule 108 as an event declared by a local instrument as an extreme weather event in the jurisdiction in which the customer’s premises are located. Where there is an extreme weather event, a retailer must not arrange for either disconnections or reconnections. While the rules are clearly important, they do not extensively deal with extreme weather events and this is an area that is likely to require reform (particularly as we expect such events to increase in their occurrence and severity). This issue was examined by Wired magazine last year.

What else should retailers do

Energy sellers should consider the following additional measures as a response to extreme weather events:

Communication with customers

Communication with customers to provide relevant information on what they can do to reduce electrical safety risks (drafted by professionals in the area), along with information on support available including under a retailer’s hardship policy.

Specialist teams

Consider setting up a specialist team to respond to customers in affected areas by providing appropriate support and referrals. The needs of individuals who are impacted by floods are often going to be complex and support may be required for an extended period of time.

Additional support

Energy sellers should consider if they can provide additional support to those impacted by extreme weather via other means. Large energy sellers are well placed as a hub for the provision of such support.

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