The Energy Charter: The industry speaks

the energy charter
The Energy Charter

Energy businesses across Australia have committed to a world-first concept, The Energy Charter, which is committed to building a better energy industry for Australia, in line with customer expectations. Those committed will publicly disclose how they are upholding the Charter’s principles, which will be reviewed annually by an independent accountability panel. With its recent launch, Energy Source & Distribution gets the scoop from the biggest names in energy of what The Energy Charter will mean for them, including:

Essential Energy CEO and Energy Charter chair John Cleland
EnergyAustralia managing director Catherine Tanna
Jemena and Ovida managing director Frank Tudor
TransGrid CEO Paul Italiano
CS Energy CEO Andrew Bills

The Energy Charter is a world-first concept – why is there a special need for it in Australia?

Catherine Tanna: For too long our industry has operated in silos with each business worried about its own patch. This is a historical legacy of energy in this country. The Energy Charter can help change that. It is about being ‘better together’. That means we are all starting off from the same reference point – better customer outcomes.

Frank Tudor: We know that homeowners and businesses are feeling the impact of rising costs and higher bills, and that the energy sector needs to build greater trust with our customers. The Energy Charter is a fresh start for everyone. It is an opportunity to recognise that industry can do better and that customers have a significant voice in how our industry will be shaped in the future.

Paul Italiano: I’m proud to have been associated with the Energy Charter from its inception, and it is my firm belief that all businesses in the energy supply chain must work harder to restore consumer trust. The Energy Charter is a crucial opportunity for businesses to demonstrate the value they provide to consumers, and to build trust, by putting consumer interests at the centre of decision-making processes.

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It’s voluntary to sign up to the Charter – why are energy companies signing up?

John Cleland: Businesses across the energy sector have recognised that the challenges of a rapidly changing energy landscape will be best overcome through a collaborative and consumer focused approach. The Energy Charter is where we start, and it’s a good start because it sets a standard so businesses can be held accountable. It shows we’re willing to work together and roll up our sleeves to address consumer expectations and provide a higher standard of service.

Andrew Bills: For CS Energy, the decision to be part of the Energy Charter was easy as it aligns with one of our key strategic goals – to align our people and our stakeholders in the success of our business. Through the Energy Charter, our customers will be able to clearly see the steps we’re taking to help deliver stable, reliable and affordable electricity, and to hold us to account if we deviate from our guiding values and principles.

Frank Tudor: Historically, many network businesses tended to be more focused on B2B relationships and hid behind the retailers. Over the last few years, Jemena has made a concerted effort to be much more customer-focused. We regularly meet with our Customer Council to inform them of what we are doing and to seek their counsel, and during the recent price review process, we spent more than 150 hours meeting with and listening to large and small customers at community forums and workshops. … we want to do more, and The Energy Charter is an opportunity to ensure our business and the energy sector as a whole is focused on customers.  

Paul Italiano: By signing the Energy Charter, our business is declaring that it has heard what consumers have said. It confirms we will work together to deliver better outcomes for consumers; and that we will continue to build trust in the industry. The Energy Charter is an opportunity for businesses right along the supply chain, from generators through to retailers, to demonstrate how they provide value to energy consumers, beyond our other obligations.

The Energy Charter keeps companies accountable through an annual evaluation of companies’ disclosures. Given each business has a different model and customer base, will it be difficult to judge if companies have upheld their commitments?

Paul Italiano: Each part of the supply chain serves customers and provides value in a different way, and the annual disclosures will reflect this. These disclosures will provide consumers with an insight into the role that each part of the supply chain plays in providing safe, reliable, and affordable energy to consumers. The disclosures will also show consumers how we are delivering value beyond price measures. For example, through works with social value like bushfire mitigation, carbon emissions reduction, engagement with communities, and vegetation and wildlife protection. The independent Accountability Panel report will be a comprehensive account of how the energy supply chain is working together to provide value to consumers.

When do you think the effects of The Energy Charter will start to be felt by consumers?

Catherine Tanna: … It may take some time to see tangible results but hopefully, in time, customers will see an easier energy experience and lower bills. It might mean an easier experience when changing retailers or faster connection when you build a new house and need the electricity or gas hooked up. We understand things like this have been hard to do in the past. We shouldn’t expect customers to expressly thank us for it. But we do want them to value the energy that runs their home or business.

Frank Tudor: Members of The Energy Charter have already expressed a willingness to hit the ground running. A number of working groups are being set up to address a variety of needs and members have already made commitments within their own organisations and to customers. Importantly, members of The Energy Charter will work closely with energy customer representative groups and bodies. These organisations will have the opportunity to advise us on their priorities and key focus areas.

Paul Italiano: I hope consumers will start to see an immediate shift in attitudes from businesses in the industry. Over the next year, businesses should begin to put into action the principles of the Energy Charter, and consumers will benefit from those that do it well. The Energy Charter is about changing the culture of the energy industry, and while any cultural shift takes time, we think there should be noticeable differences soon.

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What do you think the long-term impact of The Energy Charter will be?

John Cleland: The Energy Charter is a catalyst for all energy companies to put consumers at the centre of everything we do, with behaviours that reflect that commitment. Longer-term, we expect to see a community connected by faster service, fewer billing problems and a cleaner, more efficient energy industry for everyone.

Frank Tudor: We want to increase customer satisfaction and we can do this by providing a well-run industry that’s efficient and in-tune with its customer base. While many members already work directly with customer representative groups to make improvements, this is an opportunity to learn from mistakes of the past and provide a better offering for the future.

What’s next for the team behind The Energy Charter?

Frank Tudor: The focus to date has been on establishing The Energy Charter. As it’s a world-first, we had to establish the template from scratch. Now The Energy Charter has been officially launched, we can get down to business. In addition to setting up our working groups, importantly, we are developing transparent reporting and open accountability processes. These annual disclosures will be made public later in the year and they will be an opportunity to demonstrate exactly what we have done to tackle the energy trilemma of affordability, reliability, and sustainability. We look forward to engaging with customer groups to discuss future direction, priorities and focus areas.