Consumer protections failing thousands of renewable energy customers

31 May 2022: A growing number of renewable energy customers face vulnerability in an evolving energy market without urgent reform of external dispute resolution (EDR) models. 
A new report from the Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW (EWON) reveals widening gaps in consumer protections for customers who rely on renewable energy, even though uptake of technologies like solar panels and batteries are increasing. 
Since 2018, solar issues have featured in more than 10% of quarterly electricity complaints to EWON. This reflects the growing number of customers across diverse ages, cultural backgrounds, and employment status who can now generate, store, and trade electricity in their home or business. 
But consumer protections need to be co-designed in tandem with rapid technological innovations. While the National Energy Consumer Framework (NECF) guarantees affordable energy access for all Australians, specific protections for solar customers are fractured and far from comprehensive. 
“With energy prices rising, strong protections that apply equally to all energy customers are more crucial than ever,” says Janine Young, Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW. 
“Most complaints about solar fall beyond the scope of NECF protections and customers are often unable to access free and fair schemes such as EWON. Instead, they are left to navigate a complex and confusing external dispute resolution journey when things go wrong.” 
Customers who enter third party solar arrangements like Solar Power Purchase Agreements (SPPAs) or who store and trade energy through Virtual Power Plants (VPPs) are particularly vulnerable, often dealing with multiple service providers, consumer frameworks, and EDR mechanisms to resolve a single complaint. 
“This process is increasingly convoluted and unclear and can lead to ‘complaint fatigue’ amongst customers. For some, it can be a deterrent to making a complaint at all,” says Ms Young.
“Collaboration between governments, regulators, and stakeholders like EWON is essential to prevent a two-tier energy market which protects some customers and not others”. 
Read the full report including case studies here. 
For queries about policy issues raised in the report, please contact Policy Manager Rory Campbell. To request an interview with the Ombudsman please email Patricia Arcilla, Communications Officer or call 0401 923 644.