By Karen Collier
THE $2.18 billion roll-out of Victoria’s electricity smart meters will go ahead because too much money has been spent to pull back.
About 950,000 meters have been installed – almost half of all households and small businesses across the state.
The Herald Sun has learned a final review recommends the roll-out continue, despite cost blowouts, and that consumers will win from potential benefits.
The project’s original $800 million budget has almost tripled since the former Labor government ordered all homes and small businesses be fitted with the devices by the end of 2013.
The project also has been dogged by billing bungles and health, privacy and safety concerns.
Smart meters will allow companies to charge higher prices in peak periods and discount when demand is low.
Those who maximise the use of cheaper rates, such as using washing machines in off-peak times, are likely to benefit most.
But consumer advocate Gavin Dufty said the smart meter program had been a “runaway train and a wreck waiting to happen”.
Industry sources confirmed the meters were here to stay.
The audit also promotes the use of in-house displays, which feed information about energy use throughout the day and help guide consumers on how to reduce consumption.
Premier Ted Baillieu would not be drawn on the findings of the review, saying the program’s fate would be announced soon. Smart meters record power consumption every half hour.
The meters can be read remotely, ending the need for manual reads. They can also remotely disconnect and reconnect power, and will be able to cycle appliances such as airconditioners on and off.
A scathing auditor-general’s report released two years ago said the program was “flawed and a failure”, the financial benefits flowing to power companies rather than consumers.
Victoria’s energy regulator, the Essential Services Commission, first forecast a roll-out of the meters in July, 2004. At the time, it was estimated the meters would cost customers a few dollars each year.
Instead, Energy Minister Michael O’Brien has warned the charge could be $900 over 15 to 20 years.