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Your electricity service and your customer journey

When we spoke to you last about the customer journey and how you use electricity and interact with Power and Water, you asked a lot of questions and we have worked hard to answer these.

We have grouped our responses to your questions based on where they fit in the customer journey in terms of whether they relate to activities or services connecting customers, while you are connected, when you are without power, or the disconnection process.

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Customer service

Both Alice Springs and Darwin have local Contact Centre employees on hand to assist with enquiries.

Customers have expressed concern about the shopfronts closing in Alice Springs. Jacana didn’t have independent retail locations and had facilities within Power and Water shopfronts to enable customers to speak to Jacana’s call centre. Over 80% of consumer enquiries at Power and Water's retail locations were actually for Jacana. This, combined with extremely low customer visits (average of 8 Power and Water customer visit per day in Alice Springs) and high personnel and rental costs, prompted Power and Water to examine how customers seek assistance and what would be most beneficial to them.

Customer enquiries via the website, webchat and the Customer Service Line (available Monday to Friday 8am-5pm) attest to the fact that both of these are operational.

Additionally, customers can schedule a meeting with a Power and Water customer service representative if required by calling our Customer Service Line.

The Customer Service team has taken the suggestions and concerns of the People's Panel very seriously, and work has been done to reassure customers that they can be supported and assisted, but also to test some of your ideas, which will be presented at the next People's Panel.

Additionally, the Manager of Customer Service will attend the People's Panels and will be available to answer any additional questions.

Connecting

Power and Water reviewed and streamlined its connection process in 2020 to make it easier for customers to connect. Details can be found on the Power Connections web page.

Connected

Power and Water provides meter reading services and this data is used by the retailer to bill the customer.  Options for customers to read their own bills, should a meter reader not be able to access the meter, can be found on the Power and Water website.

Meter reading is a challenge for all networks.  Reading a meter has traditionally needed someone to physically see the meter. Meters can be installed behind locked gates, obscured by gardens or built items, and dogs can make reading meters difficult.  If a meter can’t be read, an estimate of the bill is made by reviewing past electricity usage.  Your bill will identify whether it is based on a meter read or an estimate. Understandably, customers would prefer accurate bills based on their actual use.

Alistair Carmichael, Power and Water Corporation

Power and Water has engaged new meter reading contractors, who started in late 2021.  There have been challenges because of COVID, not enough meter readers, and meter readers needing to isolate.  The contractor also couldn’t fly in additional resources because of the shortages of suitable staff interstate.  Power and Water is working with the new contractor to improve performance. Additional staff are currently being hired and there should be a reduction in estimated reads over the coming months.

‘Smart meters’ for electricity don’t need a visit to be read – they can send this information directly to a central point. Power and Water has installed 20,000 ‘smart meters’ since 2017 and is working towards installing another 25,000 by June 2024. This will mean nearly half of our customers will not be relying on meter readers for accurate bills.

Power and Water has started using the Telstra cat-M network for remote meter reading, which provides a significantly improved coverage area for smart metering in the Territory, including many remote communities.

In addition, Power and Water is upgrading billing and meter data management systems to further improve how we process data from meters through to retailers and, ultimately, customers.

All of these initiatives together will mean more accurate meter reading and more efficient management of customers billing information. This will deliver improved service for customers and more efficiency for Power and Water.

Locating electricity lines underground will mean less impacts from climate and weather affects.  However, it is very expensive – a rough ‘rule of thumb’ is that undergrounding costs around 10 times as much as traditional poles and wires.

It can be cheaper in new developments as there are no existing underground services and that’s why services and utilities in most new urban suburbs are constructed underground.

In established areas the existing underground services such as water, communications (telephone and internet), sewer, storm water and sometime gas can make it more expensive to underground.

In rural areas, particularly, the long distances between customers means that the cost per customer would be very high.

In comparison, the cost to repair our poles and wires after extreme events is still relatively inexpensive. So this remains one of those areas that Power and Water is always considering, weighing up when the cost of undergrounding can deliver the benefits for all customers.

Power and Water tested customer interest in seeing more overhead power lines moved underground in 2017. In 2017 the cost to underground power lines in the Darwin suburb of Fannie Bay or the Alice Springs suburb of Gillen was estimated to be $21,000 for each customer living in those suburbs. Given this cost, just 26% of respondents indicated an interest in seeing more power lines undergrounded.

Tree trimming is a contentious issue for all electricity networks and the frequency and nature of tree trimming is often questioned by customers.

Trees pose significant threats to the safety and reliability of our power system and they must be kept clear of poles and wires.

Power and Water employs qualified arborists and vegetation crews follow this advice and guidance at all times.

However, in the NT vegetation management is a challenge because of the rapid growth rates (compared to other states) and because local Council’s often plant trees that are not appropriate for location near power lines. For more information see Power and Water website 'Safety around trees and powerlines' page.

We have implemented a new “Hazard Tree” identification process which enables us to work more closely with customers/councils to remove trees that pose a direct risk to the network.

We are also trialling a tree replacement program in Alice Springs so that problematic trees are replaced with more appropriate species to maintain greenery. We are using local suppliers with local knowledge of species to support councils in establishing the new trees.

Luke Stapleton, Power and Water Corporation

Luke Stapleton, Power and Water Corporation

Outage

Interruption to power are caused by various factors. Some are within our control and we will continually work to improve the reliability of our assets. However, many causes are outside of Power and Water’s control. We are looking for ways to make the network more resilient to animals and weather events. Planned outages are required for essential maintenance and upkeep of the network. Maintaining the safety and reliability of the network while minimising outages is central to our day-to-day decision making.

Power and Water gives five days’ notice of any planned works that may interrupt services, via our website, through letterbox drops and other direct contact with our customers.

As soon as Power and Water is aware of an unplanned interruption to services, we advise impacted customers through our social media channels and on our website. These updates are generally provided within 20 minutes of learning about the interruption and updates are provided as we learn more about the situation. Updates are provided between 8am and 8pm, seven days a week.

Stuart Eassie, Power and Water Corporation

Power and Water is an essential service provider and so must be prepared, and able to respond to, and quickly recover from emergency events.

Following Cyclone Marcus a review of Power and Water’s response has resulted in updated processes and recovery plans. Details on how Power and Water respond to emergency events can be found on Power and Water’s 'How we respond to and recover from emergencies' web page.

We have implemented new processes and supporting technology to more rapidly assess damage after a cyclone and identify and manage the hazards associated with damage to the network such as fallen power lines. This will enable us to better plan our recovery and repairs, and give customers clearer information about when they are likely to have power restored.

Stuart Eassie, Power and Water Corporation

As all customers know, outages as a result of storms and climate events are part of Territory life. Power and Water continues to learn and develop better ways to respond more quickly and get power back on for customers.

The suggestion to provide generators for customers during blackouts was looked at by the Power Services team.

Generators for all blackouts doesn’t make sense, just because most outages are relatively short in duration. By the time a generator was transported and all homes safely connected, most outages would be over. Mobile generator reliability is generally not as good as the network, and issues with generators can result in significant additional cost and complexity to what would otherwise be simple maintenance activities.

However, sometimes there does need to be an extended outage, because the repairs can’t be made quickly. Sometimes this is because of weather, safety, access or availability of staff and materials. In these instances, Power and Water may work with its suppliers, or customers directly, to deploy generators to keep critical infrastructure online or reduce the impact of these extended outages. Power and Water needs to make decisions that provide reliability for customers but that are also mindful of introducing additional risks and whether the benefits outweigh the costs.

It is important to note that the cost of providing generators for customers would need to be paid for by other customers, which would remove incentives for customers who may want to supply energy through a generator to purchase one themselves. Work is ongoing on this issue.

Disconnecting

What is the process for disconnecting and how can we improve this process?
Your electricity retailer will organise your disconnection when required.