Case Studies - general issues

Complaint - Access to Reticulated Natural Gas

Complaint – New Supply

Complaint – Contribution Towards Supply

Complaint – Recovery of Undercharge

Complaint – Vegetation Management Complaint – Poor Advice

 

Complaint - Access to Reticulated Natural Gas

The complainant contacted our Office in late October 2009 following problems he had encountered with his application to have natural gas supplied to his property.
The complainant had applied to have natural gas connected to his home in mid 2009 and was then provided with a quote to connect the supply and to connect to gas ducted heating.  The complainant accepted the quotes provided, in late August 2009.
Following his acceptance of supply, the complainant contacted a Tas Gas preferred supplier and arranged for the delivery of over $7,000 worth of equipment, including a gas heater, ducting and a hot water unit.
After some delay, the complainant contacted Tas Gas to be told that natural gas was not available to him as his property was located on a section of the road that was not serviced with natural gas.  The complainant stated that this information was provided to him after two inspections, which he had understood to confirm that he could receive natural gas.   Tas Gas indicated that it would consider extending the distribution system, but this was subject to interest from other property owners.
The complainant contacted the equipment supplier and advised that he would not purchase his order unless he received an assurance from Tas Gas that he would be connected to the reticulated natural gas supply.
We contacted Tas Gas Networks who agreed with the chain of events described by the complainant.  However, Tas Gas stated that the offer included a condition in writing that the supply was subject to an appropriate meter location.  Further, Tas Gas advised me that it had not provided the complainant with a “Standard Natural Gas Connection Offer” and it had not provided the complainant with a binding contractual arrangement to extend the network to his property.
However, Tas Gas Networks, did acknowledge that it was not made clear to the complainant that his property was not sufficiently close to the distribution network, and that further investigations were necessary to assess the viability of extending the network at that point.
After further discussion with Tas Gas, the complainant determined that the extension of the distribution system to his house would not be financially viable.
Tas Gas Networks offered to arrange for the installation of an LPG water heater in lieu of the natural gas heater and said that it would liaise with the equipment supplier to ensure the complainant was not financially disadvantaged as a result of the misunderstanding.
The complainant advised me that he would have preferred to have access to natural gas and to install a range of gas installations within his house, but he was willing to accept the offer from Tas Gas on the basis that he would not be liable for the order from the supplier.
This case is an example of where poor communication can have very serious consequences for a customer who has acted in good faith on the information provided by a service provider.

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Complaint – New Supply

The complainant contacted my office in March 2009, following discussions with Aurora Energy about having the electricity supply connected to a parcel of land she recently had subdivided off her property.
This complaint revealed a breakdown in communication between the complainant and a neighbouring subdivider.
Initially the complainant and the neighbouring subdivider jointly approached Aurora Energy to have the electricity supply provided to their two separate developments.
Aurora Energy provided a Letter of Offer for the project but this lapsed after it was not accepted within six months of the offer being made.  Aurora Energy then received a second application for the provision of electricity, but this was from the neighbour and was based on supply from a different street than the initial application.
The complainant and the neighbour had engaged an electrical contractor to install conduit from the distribution system to a point adjacent to the two developments.  When the complainant approached Aurora Energy to have conductors installed, she was informed that the conduit did not comply with current standards, and there was no easement over property between the road and her parcel of land.
It became apparent that the neighbour had proceeded to have his development connected on the second application, but had not consulted the complainant, who understood that she could connect her land on the basis of the original application to Aurora Energy.
The complainant was left with an internal block that could only be connected if she made a fresh application to Aurora Energy on her own behalf, with the attendant costs associated with the planning and installation of an underground supply.
This matter was the result of poor communication between the two developers rather than any action by Aurora Energy.

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Complaint – Contribution Towards Supply

The complainant contacted me when he sought to have electricity connected to his property some five years after his house was destroyed by fire.
The complainant’s property is located in an isolated part of the West coast of Tasmania.  The house was destroyed in a scrub fire in April 2004 and the complainant did not immediately seek to rebuild on the site.  In fact, the complainant was in the process of selling the property when he realised Aurora Energy was quoting $6000.00 to bring the supply to his property boundary.  This was a significant sum when compared to the low value of the property.
Approximately one year after the fire, Aurora Energy found the transformer pole adjacent to the property had become a safety risk.  As a result, Aurora removed the transformer, three spans of high voltage conductor, one span of low voltage conductor, a service wire and four poles.  Aurora Energy confirmed that it had this work undertaken without consulting the complainant, as there was no indication that he intended building again.
Aurora Energy advised that it believed that the road to the complainant’s property was no longer a public road, and the quote to re-supply was based on supply across private land.
My officers’ investigation revealed some uncertainty about the status of the road.  The property was accessible by a rough gravel road that could be traversed by a two wheel drive vehicle.  The West Coast Council advised that it understood the road to be a public road but did not undertake any maintenance. 
A site visit was arranged in February 2010, attended by Aurora Energy, the complainant and my Principal Officer (Energy). It was very clear from the site visit that the assumption made by Aurora Energy that led to the removal of the infrastructure was not unreasonable.
Regardless of the status of the road, the most direct route from the distribution network was across private land
However, it was unfortunate that both Aurora Energy and the complainant had failed to confer with each other about their intentions.
After considering the events around this matter further, Aurora Energy offered to pay a half of the installation cost, leaving the complainant to pay $3000.00 to have the supply to his property re-connected.
In the circumstances this was a reasonable offer from Aurora Energy.  It had validly removed infrastructure that had been damaged in a fire, albeit without consulting the one property owner who had benefited from the supply.  On the other hand, the complainant acknowledged that he had not been in contact with Aurora Energy since the fire, and it was obvious that this issue only became a concern to him when he was selling the property.
The complainant believed the offer from Aurora Energy was reasonable and he accepted it as a resolution to his complaint.

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Complaint – Recovery of Undercharge

The complainant made a written complaint to my office in relation to Aurora Energy’s demand to recover $959.45 as a result of an undercharge.
Aurora advised the complainant that the undercharge was as a result of a failure to process certain data from the meter to the billing system. The company sought to rely on r 15(2) of the Electricity Supply Industry (Tariff Customers) Regulations 2008 to recover the $959.45.
R 15(2) states that “An electricity retailer is entitled to recover an amount that a tariff customer was undercharged, over a maximum period of 12 months before the date of the discovery of the undercharging, if the undercharging resulted from inaccurate metering of consumption which was caused by circumstances other than the circumstances referred to in subregulation (1)
The complaint to me was that the undercharge in this circumstance did not result from of inaccurate metering of consumption, but resulted from a failure to process data correctly. Therefore the complainant believed that Aurora did not have a right to recover the $959.45 pursuant to r15(2).
I agreed with the complainant and advised Aurora accordingly and invited their submissions. 
Aurora responded by stating that r 15(2) had been erroneously drafted and that the intention of the regulation was to enable recovery of an undercharge regardless of how that undercharge occurred. Aurora argued that r 15(2) should be interpreted having regard to the broader context of consumption, metering and billing of electricity.
Whilst I was sympathetic to this and agreed that this was probably the intention of the regulation, my view was that the remedy to the problem did not lie in placing an artificial construction on the regulation, but in having the regulation amended. I advised Aurora that I believed the making of an award was appropriate in this case.
After further review, Aurora agreed that steps needed to be taken to have the regulation amended and agreed to refund the complainant the additional charges recovered.

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Complaint – Vegetation Management

The complainant lodged a complaint over a proposal by Aurora Energy to trim or remove macrocarpa hedges along the boundary of his rural property.
The complainant was concerned that Aurora Energy would destroy his hedges and remove the wind protection benefit that they provided.  Rather than remove or trim the hedges, the complainant had suggested that the electricity infrastructure be moved to the opposite side of the road.
A site meeting was arranged for early February 2010 with the complainant, Aurora Energy and the Principal Officer (Energy), to view and discuss the issues raised in the complaint.
The complainant planted the hedges soon after the high voltage distribution system was installed along his property boundary, in the belief that it would not pose a risk to the overhead powerlines.  Over time the hedges had grown to the point where there was an ongoing problem with them contacting the high voltage powerlines.
Aurora Energy advised the meeting that it would cost approximately $100,000.00 to relocate the five spans to the opposite side of the road.  They also said that it would cost $10,000.00 to remove the hedge or approximately $1,500.00 every two to three years to trim them.
Aurora Energy advised that its preferred option was to leave the infrastructure on the existing alignment, as the capital cost to move it was prohibitive and created the potential for access problems over rural land into the future.  Currently Aurora Energy can access its infrastructure from the road.  The boundaries of the road reservation would require newly installed infrastructure to be well outside the current fence line on paddocks that could become wet and difficult to access.
Aurora Energy proposed to install two mid span poles, one on each of the hedges, to lift the conductors and move them to one side away from the centre line of the hedges.  This would reduce the frequency and severity of the trimming required in the vegetation management cycle.
In considering this matter, it was clear that there were a number of ways that the concerns raised by the complainant could be appropriately addressed.  Aurora Energy sought the option that had the least capital cost but one that also reduced the frequency of the need to trim the hedges.  The hedges would also remain close to their current height and continue to provide the complainant with the protection from the wind he was seeking.
It was considered that the proposal from Aurora Energy was reasonable in all the circumstances.

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Complaint – Poor Advice

The complainant was referred to me by his solicitor in August 2007.
The complaint revolved around the considerable costs borne by the complainant following advice he received from Aurora Energy at the time he was constructing new business premises.
The complainant was required to purchase an easement to facilitate the provision of an electricity supply to shops at the back of the development.  The complainant was told that he would have to move a pole in the middle of his land, to make arrangements to have an electricity connection point installed at the front of the land, and to have electricity mains installed underground to service certain shops at the rear of the property.
Rather than placing the mains under his new building, the complainant purchased a right-of-way adjacent to his land and had them installed there.  This added significant costs to his development and necessitated changes to the design of his development.
After the mains had been installed the complainant received advice that the shops behind his development could have been connected from the street in front of the shops.  This would have saved the complainant considerable expense, time and inconvenience.
The complainant was of the view that the initial advice provided to him by Aurora Energy had cost him in excess of $50,000 - both directly in the purchase of the right-of-way and indirectly through delays in having his business fully operational from the new premises.  After much discussion and negotiation, the complainant was prepared to accept $20,000 to settle the matter.
I was prepared to make an award against Aurora Energy for this amount but the matter was finally settled between the parties. There was little doubt that the advice provided did have a serious impact on the complainant’s endeavours to establish his business in new premises.
The complainant was not given the opportunity to fully explore all options and as a result, suffered significant costs, inconvenience and frustration in the development of his new business premises.

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