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Government responses to COVID-19 in the energy sector

Last updated 03/08/2020

Essential information

  • The Australian Government and state and territory governments are working together to manage the impacts of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the energy sector.
  • The National Cabinet agreed on 9 April 2020 to a nationally consistent approach to hardship support across essential services for households and small businesses.
  • Protections for households and small businesses during COVID-19 have been extended to 31 October 2020.
  • The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has set reasonable expectations of energy companies to protect householders and small business customers during the COVID-19 pandemic,
  • To get the latest information on COVID-19:
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    • Download the 'Coronavirus Australia' government app in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. This app includes essential information on government actions, a symptom checker, news and contact information.
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The Council of Australian Governments Energy Council (COAG Energy Council), comprising the Australian Government and state and territory government energy ministers, have met to agree a coordinated and comprehensive approach to identifying and managing the impacts of COVID-19 on the energy sector. This response builds on arrangements already in place for dealing with energy sector impacts, such as extreme weather events and bushfires.

Ministers agreed that governments and industry will work together in a number of key areas and will be supported by emergency management arrangements adapted to meet the needs of the current situation. This includes the COAG Energy Council and the newly established National Coordination Mechanism.

The Energy Coordination Mechanism will bring together senior executives from governments and industry. This cooperation will be important to allow governments and industry to ensure the energy sector continues to support the economy and community. Ministers encouraged energy generators, retailers and networks to consider support measures for customers experiencing difficult circumstances as a result of the coronavirus.

Energy Market response to the coronavirus pandemic

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) is now enacting its full suite of pandemic responses to provide the maximum possible protection and resilience for its critical operations and people. AEMO is also working with the energy industry including electricity generators, gas facilities, network businesses and other market participants to support additional pandemic management actions across the sector.

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has set reasonable expectations of energy companies to protect householders and small business customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. These have been extended from 31 July 2020 to 31 October 2020. The AER’s Statement of Expectations sets out a range measures, including:

  • waiving any disconnection, re-connection and/or contract break fees for small businesses which have gone into hibernation, along with daily supply charges to retailers, during any period of disconnection until at least 31 October 2020
  • offering all households and small businesses who indicate they may be in financial stress a payment plan or hardship arrangement
  • not disconnecting residential or small business customers in financial distress that have made contact with their retailer or responded to communications before 31 October 2020 and potentially beyond
  • deferring referral of any customer to a debt collection agency for recovery actions, or credit default listing until at least 31 October 2020 and potentially beyond
  • minimising the frequency and duration of planned outages for critical works, and providing as much notice as possible to help households and businesses to manage during any outage

Hardship support for energy, water and rates

The National Cabinet agreed on 9 April 2020 to a nationally consistent approach to hardship support across essential services for households and small businesses.

State and territory governments will adopt similar principles for essential services, including water utilities and local governments. 

The principles will ensure it is as simple and easy as possible for people to get support for essential services. Businesses eligible for the JobKeeper payment will automatically be considered to be under ‘financial stress’ for the purposes of accessing hardship support.

The principles, based on the government’s recently released Statement of Expectations for the energy sector, include:

  • offering flexible payment options to all households and small businesses in financial stress, including small businesses eligible for the JobKeeper Payment
  • not disconnecting or restricting supply/services to those in financial stress
  • deferring debt recovery proceedings and credit default listing
  • waiving late fees and interest charges on debt
  • minimising planned outages for critical works, and providing as much notice as possible to assist households and businesses during any outage

Hardship support for energy, water and rates The Honourable Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, media release 9 April 2020

Further support to households and small businesses during COVID-19 The Honourable Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, media release 28 July 2020

Support for households and small businesses facing hardship in paying for essential services (11 principles) National Cabinet

Statement of Expectations of energy businesses - protecting consumers and the energy market during COVID-19 Australian Energy Regulator

Retailers must support their customers as COVID-19 continues Australian Energy Regulator

Fuel supply during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Australian Government is working with the major petroleum refiners in Australia to ensure continuity of supply during the pandemic.

In April 2020 the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) made an interim authorisation allowing the major petroleum refiners and their representative body, the Australian Institute of Petroleum, to discuss and put in place measures so fuel supplies remain available during the COVID-19 pandemic, and after the economic hibernation ends.

Australia has a highly reliable fuel supply, even during significant global and local disruptions. The local market is well supplied with fuel products and demand for fuel is reducing due to the coronavirus.

Australia imports fuel from more than 70 countries, with no single country providing more than 20% of our total petroleum imports (crude products and refined products such as petrol and diesel). If there is a problem with fuel supply in a specific region, Australia can source fuel from other places.

Oil companies allowed to co-operate to secure fuel supply during COVID-19 pandemic ACCC