WIMMERA residents are getting hit with the first winter gas bill, and it's not a pretty sight.
With more cold weather ahead and lockdown forcing people to spend longer at home, the trend of the higher-than-average bill may continue.
Pundits believe the reason for this trend is due to the monopoly of distribution to the region.
The only gas supplier for Western Victoria, Energy Australia, had supplied gas to the area for 20 years.
Energy Australia currently owns 100 per cent of the pipeline's transportation capacity supplying gas to western Victoria, making them the sole gas retailer in the region.
SHARE YOUR GAS BILL STORY WITH US EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
The gas line is the Carisbrook to Horsham Pipeline, and under the Wimmera and Colac Gas Supply Tariff Order 1998, there is a limitation to how much gas price could increase.
"The cost of gas in the Wimmera region is higher than other parts of Victoria due to higher pipeline transportation tariffs," an Energy Australia spokesperson said.
According to Canstar Blue research, the average quarterly bill for gas in Victoria is $186.
Some of the cheaper prices for central metropolitan Victoria gas plans vary between $800 to $900 a year.
People in the Wimmera report quarterly gas prices from $600 to $800.
State Member for Lowan, Emma Kealy, wrote to the minister responsible for gas and spoke in Parliament about the issue.
Ms Kealy launched a petition in February 2020, just before the first COVID-19 lockdown, about the gas monopoly and associated increasing prices.
"It's an issue I will continue to advocate on to ensure that local residents get a fair deal," Ms Kealy said.
She said her office receives frequent complaints and concerns about this issue.
"We absolutely do have constituents contact us about rising gas prices and the fact that having only one retailer means there is no competition to help make prices competitive," Ms Kealy said.
If you're an eligible concession cardholder, there are many discounts and rebates you can apply for help with your bills.
Rules introduced by the Victorian Government mean energy companies must help households with their electricity and gas bills.
The Utility Grant Relief Scheme provides grants to a maximum of $650 on each utility type in two years for eligible people. People can request applications through their gas, electricity or water providers.
A spokesperson from the ACCC said they are aware of the struggle in the area.
"The ACCC reported on competition in retail gas markets in its January 2020 interim report," the spokesperson said.
"At the time, we noted, 'while retail consumers in Melbourne may have as many as 15 different retail suppliers of gas they can choose from, customers in regional areas such as Horsham or Ararat may only have one supplier available to them'.
"Concerns have been raised with us about the inability of commercial and industrial users and other retailers to access pipelines in regional areas where the capacity has been fully contracted to an incumbent retailer.
"We examined this issue in our January 2020 interim report and found that access to pipeline capacity remains a problem on a number of regional pipelines and is inhibiting competition in these areas."
The ACCC recommended several longer-term policy solutions to reduce the barriers that pipeline access may otherwise pose to competition in these areas, which would involve amending the National Gas Law and the National Gas Rules to:
- include a capacity surrender mechanism that would provide for the release of capacity by an incumbent retailer to other shippers
- prohibit pipeline operators from engaging in behaviour that would prevent or hinder access to the pipeline and from misrepresenting the availability of capacity.
In May 2021, the Energy National Cabinet Reform Committee agreed to a package of reforms that will implement the second recommendation.
Energy National Cabinet Reform Committee is separately reviewing the pipeline capacity trading framework.
The ACCC considers this an appropriate place for the first recommendation to be considered.
The Energy Australia spokesperson said they welcome competition to the area.
"The Wimmera region in Victoria is an open market and we welcome greater competition that would provide households and businesses more choice," they said.
"Other energy retailers may set up arrangements to provide gas directly with the pipeline owner.
"We encourage customers who might be struggling with their energy bills as a result of COVID-19 or other reasons to reach out immediately - we have a variety of support options available, including payment plans, extensions and a stay-connected guarantee."
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: