September 26, 2023

Senators, thank you for your invitation to appear today.   

At EnergyAustralia, we understand the cost of living is a significant concern for our customers …. and we appreciate the importance of the Committee’s work.

We also recognise that rising energy costs are a contributor to these concerns.

Our focus is on helping customers through this difficult period.

My name is Mark Brownfield. I’m EnergyAustralia’s Chief Customer Officer.

I’m joined by Tristan Menalda, our Federal Government Relations Manager. 

My position has responsibility for the needs of our 1.6 million customers.  

Everyone at EnergyAustralia is passionate about energy’s role in the daily life of our customers …... and our role in providing customers with convenient,
simple and affordable solutions. 

For those feeling the most extreme cost of living pressures, we have a range of payment support programs.   

I will speak about these shortly.

As one of Australia’s largest energy companies, our generation portfolio includes coal, gas, wind, solar and batteries.

For clarity, EnergyAustralia buys gas. We do not extract or produce gas.  

We mine coal for our Yallourn power station. At our Mount Piper power station, we rely on a third party for our coal supply.

Combined, our 5000MW generation portfolio contributes around 10% of the National Electricity Market. 

In addition, we are supporting around 1000MW of new generation into the NEM. 

This includes our Tallawarra B gas-fired power station in NSW which will be commissioned this summer. 

We believe the best way to place downward pressure on prices is more supply.

In June however, we did announce that electricity and gas prices were increasing for our customers. 

This followed sustained increases in wholesale electricity and gas prices, largely due to energy market volatility experienced in 2022. 

This volatility has also created challenges for EnergyAustralia.

In the first half of this year, we made an operating loss of $106 million. 

In the same period last year, we experienced a $1.5 billion loss. 

However, we acknowledge that increasing electricity and gas prices are contributing to the cost-of-living pressures facing Australian households. 

First, let me address customer communication.

Last Friday, the ACCC announced it was commencing legal action against EnergyAustralia over communications to our customers in 2022.

We have been in open dialogue with the ACCC on the issues …. and we have apologised to our customers.

We understand the importance of regulatory compliance.

We also understand the clarity of our customer communication is particularly important at a time when cost of living pressures are acute. 

We have already prioritised the completion of a program of improvements to our communications to ensure our customers always have the information they need to make informed decisions. 

Let me turn to customers facing hardship and share what we’re seeing.  

I believe this will be of value to the Committee. 

EnergyAssist is EnergyAustralia’s Hardship Program.

Every weekday, our team has a conversation with around 1,000 customers about bill relief or payment assistance.

That’s 1000 conversations every day, Monday to Friday. 

This is three times pre-COVID levels. 

Today … EnergyAustralia has more than 45,000 customers receiving over $30 million in support through our Hardship Program. 

In fact, as at the end of August, we’ve seen a 175% year-on-year increase of customers seeking hardship support for the first time.

I’m proud of my team, and the hard work they’re doing to assist our customers.

Chairperson and Senators …. we know the people that you represent are anxious …. and even angry.  They want energy prices to come down soon. 

Clearly there is much more to do. 

Our focus is helping customers through this difficult cost of living period, and we stand ready to work with governments on this matter. 

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.  I’m happy to take questions from the Committee.