Authorities in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) should not force utility companies to roll out smart meters, according to a task force commissioned by the NSW government.
The recommendation could rule out any likelihood that NSW will copy the state of Victoria, which has made the deployment of smart meters mandatory.
The NSW Smart Grid Task Force was critical of the Victoria scheme and said that a similar government-driven rollout would lead to higher costs for the state and its consumers.
Victoria originally expected to spend about A$800 million ($836 million) on the installation of smart meters at homes and businesses across the state, but according to recent estimates the cost has risen to more than A$2.3 billion.
Consumers have also complained about the rising cost of energy bills since smart meters were introduced, with time-of-use pricing responsible for higher charges in peak periods.
The NSW task force reckons a market-led approach would, conversely, lower the cost of rollout and force utility companies to come up with more innovative services for consumers.
“The NSW government has learnt from the Victorian experience and does not advocate a mandated approach as pursued by the Victorian government, but believes a market-based approach may have a role to play,” said NSW energy minister Chris Hartcher, as quoted by The Australian newspaper.
“Energy businesses should have flexibility to offer innovative products that customers want, not ones that a government has forced upon them,” he is quoted as saying. “Not all households will benefit equally from smart meters – different households will have different consumption patterns – and the NSW Government is keen to ensure that low income households and vulnerable customers are not impacted adversely by any potential introduction of smart meters.”
The task force has invited public submissions on its report before February 28 2013.
The Energy Suppliers Association of Australia (ESAA), a lobby group, has already responded to its publication by saying there is a need for more dialogue on the role of smart meters.
“It is important that consumers are made aware of the costs and benefits of smart meters, and we welcome the discussion paper’s suggestion that the NSW Government undertake community education programs to ensure this,” said Matthew Warren, the chief executive of ESAA, in a statement.