Wellington, Oct 30 NZPA - Electricity consumers need "smart meters" and "smart tariffs" which allow them to reduce their electricity consumption when prices peak, says a leading lobbyist.
Molly Melhuish, co-convener of the Domestic Energy Users Network (DEUN) said electricity retailers "tearing ahead" with installing inadequate smart meters should be told to stop until consumer benefits could be assured.
"Just stop now and get your act together," she told Parliament's commerce select committee in Wellington yesterday.
"These meters are designed to maximise benefits to retailers while keeping domestic consumers captive to the oligopoly (CRRCT) of generator-retailers, who have 97 percent of the retail market," she said.
Electricity retailers were expected to install 800,000 "smart meters" over the next three years, at a cost of $300 million.
But she said allowing the industry to roll out new meters to all consumers, with no public policy oversight was "unique".
"DUEN calls for a moratorium -- starting now -- on this roll-out of new meters, until there is some public policy in place," Ms Melhuish said.
The lobby represented Grey Power, Rural Women, Age Concern, the Public Health Association, and the Child Poverty Action Group.
Many of the meters favoured by retailers were "far from smart" and were being installed mainly to help them make more money, without helping consumers keep power costs down.
The meters lacked communication capability with consumers and appliances, and there was no common protocol, an agreed way for meters to communicate with one another or the meter readers of other companies.
It would cost a lot to retrofit meters with these capabilities after installation, and consumers should not have to pay this cost.
Smart meters were only one of the things needed for comprehensive modernisation of the electricity industry and to empower consumers to control their electricity purchases.
Control capabilities and two-way communication with the electrical transmission and distribution systems could improve home energy management and help retailers control demand.
Mighty River Power told the committee that it believed the current roll-out was delivering benefits to both retailers and consumers.
It disputed the need identified by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, for regulation of smart meters.
And it said the industry was cooperating to enable consumers to be able to switch retail suppliers, through data exchange agreements which could be compared to the Eftpos system operated by banks.
But Richard Deluca, general manager of Mighty River's metering division, Metrix, told the committee that he believed the money retail companies were investing in smart meters would mean they needed to retain access to the customer at the sight for as long as a decade.
Metrix had deployed about 70,000 smart meters, he said. The people making the investment were the best people to manage the technology change.