Electric bill charges paper form on the table power bills istock electricity generic
Electric bill charges paper form on the table power bills istock electricity generic

Soaring power bills hurting energy giants too

POWER providers wrote off nearly $200 million in unpaid electricity bills last year, as Queenslanders suffered bill shock.

Power utilities blamed rising electricity prices for the 24 per cent surge in bad debts during 2017-18.

And charities warned that the working poor, pensioners and families on welfare were battling to keep the lights on.

"We know people are turning off hot water systems and even fridges at times to try to save money,'' Queensland Council of Social Service chief executive Mark Henley said yesterday.

"Sometimes they are using candles instead of electricity.

"It really is quite unbelievable and wrong in a country like ours that people are having to do this.''

Australia's three biggest electricity retailers wrote off a total of $195 million in bad debts during 2017-18 - a 24 per cent increase in one year.

Origin Energy wrote off $84 million in bad debts - up 62 per cent - and recorded a 30 per cent increase in overdue bills to $296 million.

AGL's annual report states that a 22 per cent jump in "bad and doubtful debts'' to $94 million was largely due to higher billed revenues driven by price increases.

Ergon Energy reported $88 million worth of overdue customer accounts and wrote off $17 million in bad debts - down from $28 million the year before.

The rise in write-offs for unpaid bills, revealed in News Queensland's analysis of company annual reports, points to a likely increase in disconnections for unpaid bills.

More than 25,000 Queensland homes had their power cut off in 2016-17 - up 16 per cent - but the Australian Energy Regulator has not published numbers for the last financial year.

Power bills for southeast Queensland households soared 38 per cent over the past decade to average $1703 last financial year, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission data shows.

Queensland Electricity Users Network convener Jennifer Brownie said yesterday the cost of wholesale electricity had soared more than one-third over the past year.

The Queensland Government-owned power plants, operated by Stanwell Corporation, generated a record $700 million pre-tax profit in 2017-18, compared with $493 million the year before.

As households struggled to pay power bills, Stanwell Corporation paid its chief executive Richard Van Breda an $858,000 salary package that included a $96,000 bonus.

Together the five top managers pocketed $2 million in base pay plus $270,000 in bonuses.



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