Electricians arc up over State business plan

Posted April 26, 2016


Master Electricians Australia is fighting a Queensland Government move which it says threatens the livelihoods of electrical contractors statewide.

MEA chief executive officer Malcolm Richards this week said a full campaign was under way as government-owned electricity distributors Ergon and Energex prepared to roll out a new business division as part of merger plans taking effect mid-year.

“There’s a lot of anger and a lot of feeling across the industry about this issue and they don’t want to let it go,” he said.

The new sub-entity was expected to target solar installations, batteries, energy management, meter maintenance and other switchboard maintenance tasks, he said.

Mr Richards (pictured below) said the MEA had started a ‘Save our Sparkies’ petition in State Parliament and he had written to the Queensland Competition Authority to investigate the issue as well as making contact with federal authorities regarding the application of new competition regulations coming into effect later this year.

“If a small regional electrical contractor gets beaten by the new company due to their market power we will be able to lodge some significant complaints,” he said.MEA_Malcolm Richards070414_200

The Palaszczuk Government issued a statement saying there were no plans for a merged power distribution company to compete for work from existing licensed electrical contractors who performed solar or electrical work at the household level.

“While the final direction and business model for the overall merger of Ergon and Energex is still being finalised, we can assure contractors that the energy services business is expected to offer new services where there are limited service suppliers or resources available to customers such as in remote areas of Queensland including Indigenous communities,” , Treasurer Curtis Pitt said.

“It is envisaged that the focus of the energy services business will be on new and innovative products and services and expanding the overall market, particularly in regional Queensland.”

The energy services division would look at how the energy network – as a whole – could embrace new technologies, such as solar battery storage, smart metering, large-scale commercial solar and other renewables, he said.

“It is also expected to deliver up to 500 new jobs over the next decade – the vast majority in regional Queensland,” Mr Pitt said.

This contrasted with the likely outcome of the LNP’s planned sale of Ergon and Energex. which would mean fewer employees and fewer pay packets in regional centres.

“We will continue to work with key stakeholders, including the Master Electricians Australia and relevant electrical contractor associations during the merger process and discuss the opportunities that exist for the merged Ergon-Energex to work with electricians and retailers to grow the industry,” he said.

 However, Mr Richards said the MEA had been frustrated at the lack of information and consultation two months out from creation of the new merged company.

He pointed to weekend news regarding Energex plans to stop households connecting new ­appliances to off-peak tariffs as highlighting one aspect of the MEA’s concerns.

“This has been our complaint the whole time – Ergon and Energex have the power to set the rules and at the same time they are going to create a company, a sub-entity that is going to compete on the open market with the other players in complying with the rules,” he said.

“So there’s a significant conflict of interest and we don’t think they should be able to create that company and do that work.”

They could effectively create their own marketplace and steer home owners in a certain direction to save money on their power bill, he said.

He said also existing electrical contractors across regional Queensland were well-prepared in terms of alternative energy technologies.

“We’ve 10,000 contractors in Qld and 1183 are solar accredited and we personally, through our training arm, have trained 300 in battery installations already and there are more in training at the moment,” Mr Richards said.

He is urging concerned citizens to support the ‘Save our Sparkies’ petition at http://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/work-of-assembly/petitions/e-petition?PetNum=2570

The issue concerned not just electrical contracting business and their employees, but local communities as well, he said.

“If small companies get beaten up by this new entity they will have to lay staff of and the local community will lose their local electrician if they don’t remain viable,” he said.

“It’s like a government-owned Woolworths beating up the corner store - and once it’s gone it’s lost forever.”

Opposition Small Business and Employment spokesman Tim Nicholls said he would urge every small business owner in Queensland to sign up to the e-petition “to ensure they’re not next in line to be forced to compete against a state-owned monopoly.”


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