Power prices spiked in June up to five times higher than the wholesale price at the start of 2021, the consumer watchdog has revealed.

The chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says the watchdog is actively monitoring power companies to ensure they do not act against the interest of consumers and withhold supply or set retail prices above the market safety net.

“Under direction from the federal government, we will use our full information gathering powers to provide greater transparency around the factors influencing electricity and gas prices, including profits and margins from a wide range of energy companies,” ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said in a statement on Monday.

International factors like the war in Ukraine have led to a surge in global gas supply and prices, which coupled with an east coast cold snap increased demand on the grid, as coal-fired power stations were down due to unexpected outages and scheduled maintenance.

The commission’s May report on the National Energy Market revealed a slight decrease in power bills from 2020 to 2021, with the typical household paying $315 and business $427 over the third quarter.

Households could save more than $250 a year off their power bills by switching from a standing offer to a low price market offer, according to the ACCC.

“The market is changing rapidly so keep up to date about your plan and the prices you’re paying,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.

“It may also be harder to find another plan at the moment, as some retailers are not accepting new customers. Nevertheless, it is important to ensure that customers shop around to ensure they are on the best deal available to them.”

The ACCC noted retailers cannot set the price of their standing offers above the “safety net” default market offer determined by the Australian Energy Regulator, or the Victorian default offer stipulated by the Essential Services Commission.

The ACCC will report back to Australia’s energy ministers about the state of the national energy market in July.

Dominic Giannini
(Australian Associated Press)