April 19, 2011 - Whittlesea residents in Australia will be hit by further electricity price increases due to the rollout of new "smart" meters.

Wholesale electricity supplier for Whittlesea, SP AusNet, has proposed an price increase of more than Aus.$80 next year to cover the cost of the new meters. The fee could be as much as Aus.$163 in 2015.

But community organisations say many residents are already struggling to cope with the price of bills.

Whittlesea Community Connections conducted a survey which found that in 2010, 80 per cent of respondents who sought emergency financial relief said the main reason was to pay for utilities. Emergency financial relief case manager Peta Fualau said residents already struggled to pay their bills. Ms Fualau also said there had been reports of smart meter errors but many vulnerable residents had quietly tried to pay huge electricity bills.

The proposed smart meter price hikes are detailed in a budget submission which needs to be approved by the Australian Energy Regulator by October 31. The submission also stated 10 to 15 per cent of meter reads had errors or implausible reads.

SP AusNet spokesman Joe Adamo said the company had decided to roll out the price increase over a few years to minimise a major price rise.

“SP AusNet makes every effort to work with customers to ensure they understand the requirements of the program and to resolve any issues and concerns they may have about their smart meter installation,” he said.

Mr Adamo would not reveal how many complaints had been made to SP AusNet about the smart meter rollout.

Coalition government spokesman Simon Troeth said the smart meter project was under review, with a decision expected by the end of the year.