State pushes air-con control

Big switch-off: Western Power could turn off domestic air-con. Picture: Supplied

The Barnett Government is considering an accelerated rollout of high-tech electricity meters that could allow Western Power to switch household air-conditioners off to relieve strain on the power grid.

Energy Minister Mike Nahan confirmed the Government was looking at introducing so-called smart meters amid efforts to empower energy consumers and rein in rising costs associated with peak demand.

The minister's comments come after a landmark energy efficiency trial finished last year.

It showed that households with smart meters were able to reduce their power consumption significantly.

Grid operator Western Power noted "demand management" - or remotely turning off a home's air-conditioner compressor - slashed use by up to 25 per cent at times of peak demand.

It also found households used less because smart meters allowed them to instantly see how much power they were consuming and subscribe to "time of use tariffs", which charge customers more as demand increases.

However, smart meters have proved controversial in other parts of the world, where critics argue the capital cost of installing the devices pushes up bills and they hand too much power to network operators.

In a cost-benefit analysis of smart meters in 2011, Western Power said costs associated with a wholesale rollout would be almost $900 million but offered $1.1 billion in benefits. Dr Nahan acknowledged the risks associated with the meters' costs, saying he was considering only "low-priced" versions.

He also stressed that no customer was going to be forced to accept time-of-use tariffs, conceding they could disadvantage households that were not able to shift their consumption away from times of peak demand.

Acting shadow energy minister Ben Wyatt said Labor would support anything that brought relief to households hit with power price rises under the Government but questioned its ability to deliver.

Mr Wyatt cited the Government's much-publicised troubles with its solar subsidy scheme and the bungled refurbishment of the Collie Muja AB coal-fired power station, both of which have cost taxpayers heavily.

"The public would also want to know whether Dr Nahan has the endorsement of the Premier," Mr Wyatt said.