Electricity network services. Long-term trends in prices and costs

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1 Electricity network services Long-term trends in prices and costs

2 Contents Executive summary 3 Background 4 Trends in network prices and service 6 Trends in underlying network costs 11

3 Executive summary EY has been engaged by NSW Treasury to analyse the long-term trends in the prices and costs of providing electricity network services. This report summarises the long-term price and cost performance of electricity networks or poles and wires businesses in NSW, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia. It shows that network prices for typical residential customers in Victoria and South Australia have fallen in real terms since privatisation. By contrast, network prices in NSW and Queensland have increased in real terms by over 100% in the same period. A number of factors are likely to contribute to this discrepancy in network price trends. This report also shows a corresponding discrepancy in the operating and capital costs incurred by the businesses. The privately-owned businesses in Victoria and South Australia reduced their real operating costs over the period and they were able to keep their spending within the regulatory allowances. The data illustrates that the Government-owned businesses did not achieve the same outcomes. The evidence does not suggest that network service levels fell in Victoria and South Australia; indeed some key service metrics also appeared to improve. Consequently, since network privatisation, residential electricity customers in Victoria and South Australia have benefited in terms of both network prices and service levels. In more recent times, there have been significant reforms in NSW and Queensland conducted by the network businesses, which appear to have reduced their underlying costs significantly, so the upward pressure on network prices is now easing. In NSW for example, the distribution businesses have been merged under one entity and management has introduced a range of cost saving initiatives. In November 2013, the then Treasurer indicated that the businesses achieved total savings of $1.4 billion in and Notwithstanding these cost reductions, it is widely recognised that it is difficult to replicate the incentives generated by private ownership in a Government ownership setting. The latter typically places a variety of constraints or conflicting incentives on network businesses, which can be difficult to overcome and can lead to higher operating and capital costs. 1 NSW Treasury Media Release, Network savings now 10 times above target, 22 November 2013 Electricity network services Long-term trends in prices and costs 3

4 Background Rising electricity prices have been and are likely to remain a significant political, business and community issue in Australia. There has also been considerable debate about potential electricity industry reforms in NSW and Queensland. As a result, NSW Treasury asked EY to address two questions in relation to electricity network services: What have been the historical trends in network prices and network service levels for typical residential customers in Australia? What does the publicly available evidence suggest are the possible explanations for those trends? This report relies on publicly available data to illustrate the historical performance of certain electricity network businesses in Australia in terms of network prices, service levels and underlying costs. Such information can provide important evidence to inform the debate on industry reform. It builds on work that EY has previously undertaken on analysing the contribution of network prices to electricity price increases over the long term. 2 Terminology used in this report In this report, unless otherwise stated, the term: Network price refers to the annual cost of the network charges paid by the typical residential customer as reflected in retail electricity bills Retail electricity price refers to the annual cost of the total electricity charges paid by the typical residential customer as reflected in retail electricity bills Customer refers to the typical residential customer in each State who consumes the average volume in each year Figure 1: Electricity bill components Introduction to electricity in Australia Components of the typical electricity bill The electricity bills that residential customers pay are made up of the costs of the various components required to generate and deliver electricity to homes, as illustrated by Figure Wholesale Transmission Distribution Retail Other charges Networks or poles and wires Feed in tariffs Renewable Energy target Advanced metering infrastructure charges 2 For more information, including detail of the assumptions and methodology we used, refer to Ernst & Young, Victoria domestic electricity prices : The contribution of network costs A report for the Victorian electricity network businesses, 9 September Available at 9ec43dc9-c71c-451c-aef7-e71a25cc9aa8-0.pdf as part of a larger document. 4 Electricity network services Long-term trends in prices and costs

5 Qualifiers This report analyses the trend in electricity prices over the long term in NSW, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia (i.e. from privatisation in Victoria until 2013 and from privatisation in SA until 2011). Costs are expressed in real 2012 terms for all States, except in South Australia where they are in real 2010 terms. All findings in this report refer to estimates of the electricity costs paid by customers in each State, either expressed on a per megawatt hour basis, which adjusts costs for the amount of electricity consumed, or on a per customer basis. The period of the results may differ between each State due to the availability of data from regulatory documents, which are typically produced consistent with the 5-year regulatory control period applying in each State. This report does not analyse the cost of electricity in the industrial or business sectors because a similar analysis is not feasible for several reasons, including data limitations, the large number and complex structure of non-residential tariffs and the prevalence of individually negotiated non-standard contracts. Residential customers comprise around 88% of customers and 28% of consumption. This report focuses on electricity network prices, or the component of electricity bills attributable to the poles and wires. This is made up of two types of networks transmission and distribution which transport electricity from power stations to homes. It is also important to note that network prices are only part (typically between 35-55%) of the final electricity bill paid by residential customers (see Figures 2 and 3). Significant reforms to electricity networks have been undertaken in some States in Australia. For example, Victoria and South Australia privatised their electricity network businesses in and in respectively. In the rest of Australia, the electricity network businesses remain Government-owned. The analysis in this report focusses on the long-term trend in prices and underlying costs of the electricity network businesses in NSW, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia. Electricity networks are made up of large amounts of infrastructure, which are very expensive to build and to operate, and have large economies of scale. This means that electricity network services are most efficiently delivered by one supplier. This is what is widely known as a natural monopoly. Prices charged by all electricity network businesses in Australia whether they are Government-owned or privatelyowned are regulated to encourage efficient investment in and use of the infrastructure and to manage the risk of monopoly pricing. In NSW, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia the electricity networks are regulated by the Australian Energy Regulator (the AER), an independent Commonwealth agency which is part of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. 3 Network prices are usually set for 5-year periods and are based on the regulator s assessment of the efficient and prudent cost of meeting required service levels. 3 The AER commenced regulation of these businesses on 1 July Prior to its establishment, the electricity transmission networks were regulated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the electricity distribution networks were regulated by State-based regulators. Electricity network services Long-term trends in prices and costs 5

6 Trends in network prices and service Summary of impact on network prices Table 1 shows the real historical change in annual network prices paid by the typical residential customer over the long term. It illustrates that network prices for Government-owned businesses have increased at a faster rate than they have for privately-owned businesses where they have fallen. Various factors can and do contribute to the discrepancy (e.g. the starting position in respect of price levels, the age of the assets and therefore the need for investment, service standards etc.). Not all of these factors are within the businesses control. For example, over some of this period, the networks in NSW and Queensland have invested particularly heavily in their networks. In contrast, the businesses in Victoria are approaching a stage in their life cycle which may require substantial further investment. South Australia may also have recently entered a similar stage in their investment life cycle as is the case in Victoria. Table 1: Long-term change in average annual electricity network prices over the period (%) Network prices Source: EY NSW to Government-owned Impact on electricity prices Qld to It is widely recognised that electricity prices and bills paid by residential customers in Australia have increased substantially, particularly in recent years. Estimating the typical residential energy bill is complicated by a number of factors, such as the introduction of Full Retail Contestability and the associated information constraints. For example, many customers are on market contracts with their retailer and pay a lower rate than the standing offer rate that retailers are generally obliged to provide. 4 Victoria 1996 to 2013 Privately-owned +122% +140% -18% -17% SA to Our analysis captures this by using electricity standing offer retail prices (which are publicly available) and adjusting for the average discount for customers on market contracts and the estimated proportion of customers who have switched to a market contract. Some limited information exists on these two variables. This approach to estimating bills necessarily involves some approximation, so the absolute level of bills should be viewed as a broad estimate only. Moreover, there are a variety of reasons why total bills will differ between locations. The focus should therefore be on the long-term trends in total bills and the components of those bills, rather than the absolute levels. 4 The way that retail electricity prices are determined also differs by State. Retail prices for small customers consuming less than 160 MWh of electricity per annum (which covers most residential customers) in Victoria and South Australia are not regulated. In NSW and Queensland, retail prices for small electricity customers are currently regulated, although full deregulation will occur in NSW from 1 July Electricity network services Long-term trends in prices and costs

7 Table 2 represents the change in typical annual retail electricity prices in each State, and the change in electricity network prices and other costs which make up that electricity bill over the same period. 5 Table 2: Long-term change in average annual electricity prices (%) NSW to Government-owned Qld to Victoria 1996 to 2013 Privately-owned Retail electricity prices +83% +57% +28% +23% Network prices +122% +140% -18% -17% Non-network costs plus other costs* Source: EY +51% +11% +72% +86% SA to It illustrates that: Retail electricity prices have risen significantly over the long term in all States Network prices have been the major driver of the increase in electricity prices in NSW and Queensland Network prices have not been a driver of electricity price increases in Victoria or South Australia Figure 2 shows the long-term change in retail electricity prices in each State by component. It also shows the change in retail electricity prices in real dollar terms, and highlights what has driven the change during this period. 5 Various factors can contribute to the change in non-network costs (e.g. wholesale energy prices, environmental schemes, retailer costs), all of which can vary by State. Other costs include AMI charges in Victoria as this is the outcome of specific policies by the State Government. Electricity network services Long-term trends in prices and costs 7

8 Figure 2: Breakdown of long-term electricity prices by State ($ per megawatt hour) NSW What has happened to prices from to ? Retail prices increased by $136 per MWh, of which: 67% came from network prices 33% came from non-network costs Network Non-network Electricity cost Queensland What has happened to prices from to ? Retail prices increased by $86 per MWh, of which: 87% came from network prices 13% came from non-network costs Network Non-network Electricity cost Victoria What has happened to prices from 1996 to 2013? Retail prices increased by $61 per MWh, of which: 70% came from non-network costs 30% came from AMI costs Network prices fell by $20 per MWh Network AMI costs Non-network Electricity cost South Australia What happened to prices from to ? Retail prices increased by $36 per MWh, of which: 100% of the increase came from non-network costs Network prices fell by $23 per MWh Network Non-network Electricity cost Source: EY. The percentages in this Figure refer to how much network prices and non-network costs were responsible for the change in retail prices. They differ from the percentages in Table 1 and 2, which refer to the percentage change in network prices and non-networks over time. 8 Electricity network services Long-term trends in prices and costs

9 Impact on customer retail bills Table 3 shows today s retail electricity bill for the typical residential customer compared to that paid in 1996 (and 1998 in South Australia) in nominal terms, the change in retail electricity bills and the network component of that bill. It highlights that network prices increased more significantly in NSW and Queensland than in Victoria and South Australia. As a result, electricity customers in NSW and Queensland are paying more in network prices and electricity bills, compared to customers in Victoria and South Australia. Figure 3 shows network prices as a proportion of the typical residential electricity customer s total bill. It illustrates that in NSW and Queensland, network prices increased as a proportion of the total bill. In contrast, network prices as a proportion of the customer s total bill decreased in Victoria and South Australia. Table 3: Typical annual retail electricity bill ($ per year, nominal terms) Current electricity bill Electricity bill in 1996/1998 Increase in electricity bill Current network bill Network bill in 1996/1998 Increase in network bill Source: EY NSW to Government-owned Qld to Victoria 1996 to 2013 Privately-owned SA to $1,925 $1,547 $1,495 $1,481 $745 $615 $752 $821 $1,180 $932 $743 $660 $1,069 $836 $595 $636 $343 $217 $368 $501 $726 $619 $227 $135 Figure 3: Network prices as a proportion of typical annual retail electricity bill (%) 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% NSW QLD VIC SA Electricity network services Long-term trends in prices and costs 9

10 Over the long term, real network prices in Victoria and South Australia have fallen. What about electricity network services levels in these States? Impact on network service levels There are often concerns that the privatisation of services previously provided by Governments may lead to declining service levels. The AER specifically acknowledged these concerns in its State of the Energy Market Reports, including in the inaugural 2007 edition 6 and also in 2009: Noting these caveats, the System Average Interruption Duration Index data [SAIDI a key indicator of reliability] indicates that since the average duration of outages per customer tended to be lower in Victoria and South Australia than other jurisdictions despite some community concerns that privatisation might adversely affect service quality. Measures of electricity network reliability should be interpreted with some care, as reliability standards can differ between States and a short time series of data may not present the most accurate picture. There are also instances when one-off events affect the annual service level performance of network businesses (e.g. bush fires in Victoria in 2008). A detailed assessment of network service levels has not been undertaken as part of this work. SAIDI is, however, one key measure of reliability which suggests that the service levels of the Victorian and South Australian electricity network businesses have generally improved. This is supported by other reports such as the AER s 2013 State of the Energy Market Report 7, the AER and ESC s Electricity Distribution Business Performance Report for the Victorian businesses and ESCOSA s Annual Performance Report for the South Australian Energy Supply Industry. 6 Australian Energy Regulator, State of the Energy Market 2007, page Australian Energy Regulator, State of the Energy Market 2013, page Electricity network services Long-term trends in prices and costs

11 Trends in underlying network costs Given the evidence on network prices and service levels, it raises the question: what has led to the discrepancy in network price performance? This discrepancy is likely to have been driven by many factors (some of which are not within the control of the businesses) and we do not attempt to provide a full explanation. However, one of the reasons for the discrepancy could be due to differences in historical performance in respect of underlying operating and capital costs. This report analyses the publicly available information on the costs incurred by electricity distribution network businesses over the period. The analysis in this section focuses on distribution only (i.e. it does not cover transmission due to information constraints) and refers to the total costs incurred by the distribution businesses (i.e. to serve all customers, including residential customers). It is also worth noting that the analysis is historical and the Government-owned businesses are increasingly driving reforms to reduce expenditure levels whilst meeting the required service levels. This analysis suggests that there has been a strong relationship between the historical network price and underlying cost performance of the businesses over the long term. In NSW and Queensland, the distribution networks over the period of the analysis: Increased their underlying operating costs per unit of energy distributed in real terms Spent more on operating and capital costs than the allowances provided by the regulator over the past two complete regulatory periods (which covers a total of 10 years) In Victoria and South Australia, the distribution networks over the period of the analysis: Reduced their underlying operating costs per unit of energy distributed in real terms Spent less on operating and capital costs than the allowance provided by the regulator over the past two complete regulatory periods Electricity network services Long-term trends in prices and costs 11

12 Operating costs Table 4 shows the change in real operating costs of the electricity distribution network businesses in the three States per unit of energy distributed. Figure 4 shows the benefit in terms of reductions in per unit operating costs that both the Victorian and South Australian businesses were able to achieve, which occurred particularly in the early years after privatisation. While there has been some increase in real operating costs in Victoria and South Australia in recent years, this is not inconsistent with the trend in NSW and Queensland (and may reflect changes in the scope of service provided or changes in service levels). Table 4: Change in annual operating expenditure per megawatt hour distributed over the period (%) Change in operating costs per MWh NSW 1999 to 2010 Government-owned Qld 2002 to 2010 Victoria 1996 to 2010 Privately-owned +71% +96% -23% -3% Note: Only results up until 2010 are presented due to the availability of data. Source: EY, various regulatory documents SA 2000 to 2010 Figure 4: Operating expenditure per megawatt hour distributed (Index, 2002 = 100) NSW QLD VIC SA Source: EY, based on various regulatory documents 12 Electricity network services Long-term trends in prices and costs

13 Comparison against regulatory allowances Regulators determine the operating and capital costs that electricity network businesses require to provide reliable services to customers. The operating and capital cost allowances determined by the regulator represent the efficient and prudent costs it considers appropriate for each electricity network. It therefore takes into account amongst other factors, the service levels the businesses are expected to meet. Figure 5 compares how the Governmentowned networks and the privately-owned networks in Victoria and South Australia performed compared to the allowances the regulator provided over the past two completed regulatory periods (i.e. 10 years). 8 In other words, it compares their actual expenditure versus allowed costs. Figure 5: Actual expenditure versus allowed costs (%) 30% 25% 20% 15% 10% 5% 0% -5% -10% -15% -20% -25% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% -10% -20% 9% -10% Previous regulatory period Government-owned 39% -2% Opex Capex 24% -20% Two regulatory periods ago Privately-owned 22% -17% Figure 5 shows that over the last two regulatory periods, the Governmentowned networks overspent relative to their operating and capital expenditure allowances. The opposite is true for the privatelyowned networks in Victoria and South Australia. This evidence on the cost performance of the privately-owned and Governmentowned businesses is likely to provide part of the explanation for the differences in the network price trends observed in each State. For example, the increased capital expenditure over the regulated allowance by the Government-owned network businesses over the past two regulatory periods equates to approximately $6 billion (or about 20% of the asset base). This has fed into the network prices and retail electricity bills paid by all customers. -30% Previous regulatory period Government-owned Two regulatory periods ago Privately-owned Source: EY, various regulatory documents. 8 This analysis has only been undertaken in South Australia for the previous complete regulatory period because there has only been one complete regulatory period under regulatory decision making. Electricity network services Long-term trends in prices and costs 13

14 Restrictions on Report Use The Report may only be relied upon by NSW Treasury pursuant to the terms and conditions referred to in our engagement letter dated 21 February Any commercial decisions taken by NSW Treasury are not within the scope of our duty of care and in making such decisions, you should take into account the limitations of the scope of our work and other factors, commercial or otherwise, of which you should be aware of from sources other than our work. 14 Electricity network services Long-term trends in prices and costs

15 15

16 EY Assurance Tax Transactions Advisory About EY EY is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. The insights and quality services we deliver help build trust and confidence in the capital markets and in economies the world over. We develop outstanding leaders who team to deliver on our promises to all of our stakeholders. In so doing, we play a critical role in building a better working world for our people, for our clients and for our communities. EY refers to the global organisation, and may refer to one or more, of the member firms of Ernst & Young Global Limited, each of which is a separate legal entity. Ernst & Young Global Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, does not provide services to clients. For more information about our organisation, please visit ey.com Ernst & Young, Australia. All Rights Reserved. M ED None This communication provides general information which is current at the time of production. The information contained in this communication does not constitute advice and should not be relied on as such. Professional advice should be sought prior to any action being taken in reliance on any of the information. Ernst & Young disclaims all responsibility and liability (including, without limitation, for any direct or indirect or consequential costs, loss or damage or loss of profits) arising from anything done or omitted to be done by any party in reliance, whether wholly or partially, on any of the information. Any party that relies on the information does so at its own risk. Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation. ey.com

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