Reporter: Rodney Lohse
It's the great power bill shock, coming to your mailbox soon.
Tonight comes the device which could mean salvation to all those being crippled by out of control power bills. "Basically it's a power factor correction unit that can save you up to 35% on your power", said Geoff Hourigan.
It's been forecast that power prices will again rise 25% this year. Some families are being forced to consider going back to the dark ages. Damien and Naomi Buhagair were paying $200 per quarter for power -- suddenly their bills jumped to $900. "400% is unbelievable", Damien said.
Their demands for answers from their power company were ignored so they changed providers. "Our bill is almost straight back down to $200 again", he said.
For others it hasn't been so simple. Ashwani Pundir's bills makes no sense. "I can't understand how it goes to $1,666 when the previously highest bill was $205", Ashwani said.
And there are thousands of Australian's in the same position. In Queensland almost 18,000 people had their power disconnected for non- payment last year and there have been more than 6,000 complaints to the Electricity Ombudsman since July. New South Wales saw a spike in complaints of 42% last year to more than 15000. In Victoria a record 26,000 plus complaints were made last year.
And disputes can drag on. "For almost 12 months now we've been arguing with Origin about our highly increasing power bills", said Leah and Jarrod Winch.
They thought their first big bill of $900 dollars was over the top but the next quarter left that in the shade. "May-August and our bill came in at $2,300", the couple said.
Leah and Jarrod have now been in dispute for almost a year and currently owe over $4,000 to their power company, with no end in sight.
Australian's pay some of the highest electricity prices in the world --around 21 cents per kilowatt hour. That's compared to an average of 12 cents in the United States and 19 cents in the United Kingdom. The finger of blame is being pointed at the generous rebates governments are paying households that generate solar power -- up to 40cents a kilo watt -- its a scheme the rest of us subsidise.
The only way to beat big bills is to use less and Geoff Hourigan believes he has the answer. "The technology has been around for approximately 30 years. It was first invented in Germany but it wasn't really needed then because power prices were really cheap", Geoff said.
It's called the Earthwise PowerSaver. Geoff has adapted the German technology for Australian conditions and essentially its a device that controls the flow of electricty to appliances so they get the right amount rather than too much. The savings it can generate up to 35%
Independent testing so far shows promising results. Electrical Engineer Greg Paxton has worked with the CSIRO and federal and state governments, which are interested in the Power Saver's potential. Greg's very optimistic. "I've seen the clear evidence that it actually does work. Anyone can see that it reduces the current used by the apparatus that is consuming the power", he said.
Internet based Panacea University Electrical Engineer Ashworth Palise agrees. "In my opinion it has shown successful results -- it works", Ashworth said.
Geoff is meeting with Queensland Government in the next fortnight and has already installed 300 Power Savers into private homes -- he is anxiously anticipating their next power bills. The Power Saver also cuts down electromagnetic radiation which all electrical appliances emit and has been linked to cancer.
Depending on the size, the Power Saver ranges in price from $1,300 to $1,700 installed. Geoff believes the unit will pay for itself within two years and guarantees it works. "We'll give you your money back or we'll test the unit to make sure the unit is working first", he said.
For further information:
Earthwise Power Saver.
Visit the website at: www.earthwisepowersavers.com.au or phone 1300 768 004
Statement from Origin Energy:
* Firstly, it is important to note that while this is being investigated all collections activity is on hold. There are no steps towards disconnection being taken
* The information below covers what we are doing to help reach a resolution with the Winch family on their past bills, but beyond that we would like to help them better understand their consumption and their options and by this response are offering to send to their home Anne Armansin, our expert energy efficiency advisor from Origin's Energy Institute.
* In respect of the billing dispute, we were already investigating and will be responding formally to the Ombudsman this week as scheduled
* As part of that investigation we asked the network provider, SP Ausnet, to check the meter, which they did on Friday and they tell us it is working
* I can confirm that the last three bills have all been based on actual meter readings: this is not a case where we have any doubt about the
consumption over the period.
* The major part of the issue is a very large bill for winter consumption in the period May to August 2010 (approximately $2,500), and the size of it
* We are looking at options in which Origin would reduce the outstanding debt. In this regard there are established procedures under our industry
leading PowerOn hardship program which are potentially relevant
* In the aftermath of the tragic Black Saturday bushfires we took a number of actions to help customers who were affected, and continue to work with
affected customers still experiencing hardship
* We did respond to the complaints made by the Winch family after their very high winter bill, including a suggestion of an energy audit, but given the
circumstances we regret that we did not at that time launch a deeper investigation of the options available.