A reader’s email last week led me down too many rabbit holes, but I think it was worth it. The reader asked us to look into how electricity companies handle refunds of customer credits accumulated under solar feed-in tariffs (FiTs). Can customers get credit refunds automatically, and what happens to credits at the end of a contract?
Those questions bump up against a very common consumer protection issue: overly-complex consumer terms and conditions can make it hard to understand how things work, and as a consequence, consumers might miss out on their entitlements.
The amounts involved can definitely be non-trivial – as SolarQuotes Founder Finn Peacock mentioned to me:
“If you can’t get a credit on your bill as cash in the bank – then that will seriously mess up the payback of the solar for many people. For example with a big system it is not unusual to get a net $500+ credit in summer.”
So it’s worth knowing how a provider handles refunds.
What we found, looking through the feed-in tariff terms and conditions of 13 retailers, is credit refund policies either let customers register for automatic refund of credit balances (usually with a minimum balance applied to refunds); or the provider will offer refunds if requested.
Only one retailer, Alinta Energy, excludes refunds. In its solar terms and conditions document (here’s the PDF), we read:
“A Solar Electricity Credit has no value other than as prescribed in this Agreement, it is not transferable and we are not under any circumstances required to pay you any amount of money under the terms of this Agreement in respect of Solar Electricity Credits. Any Solar Electricity Credits which have accrued and, as at the date this Agreement terminates, have not been set-off against amounts payable by you under your Energy Agreement will be extinguished without compensation to you effective upon termination of this Agreement.”
Note to solar power system owners from Finn: A good reason to avoid Alinta like the coronavirus!
As for the rest of those we surveyed, where we were able to identify a retailer’s credit policy, we’ve provided a summary in the table below.
Selected Retailers’ Credit Policies
|Provider||Policy||States identified in policy||Minimum balance||Auto?||Details||Notes|
|AGL||On application||NSW, SA and QLD||$10||N||Link||Separate Vic policy here|
|Amaysim Energy||Annual by request||NSW, SA, QLD, Vic||$100||N||Link|
|Aurora Energy||By request, phone or Web form||Tas||Not stated||N||Link|
|Click Energy||Customers can register an account to receive credits||NSW, SA, QLD, Vic||Not stated||Y||Link|
|DC Power Co||By phone or e-mail request||NSW, SA, QLD, Vic||$100||N||Link|
|Discover Energy||Customers can either register for periodic credits, or get credits by request||NSW, SA, QLD, Vic||$50||Y||Link|
|Dodo||On application, quarterly||Victoria||$100||N||Link|
|Energy Australia||By cheque, phone or e-mail request only||Not stated||Not stated||N||Link||Offered to Power Response Program customers; not included in standard FiT terms|
|Energy Locals||By request||NSW||$200||N||Link|
|Origin Energy||Customers can register an account to receive credits||Not stated||Not stated||Y||Link|
|Powershop||By phone or e-mail request||Not stated||$100||N||Link|
|ReAmped Energy||By request||Not stated||Not stated||N||Link|
|Synergy||Customers can register a refund account||WA||$75||Y||Link|
If a retailer is missing from this list, it’s because we couldn’t find any mention of credit refunds in their documentation – they may or may not offer credit refunds.
Retailers who let you choose to automatically get your credits
Only four of the retailers included in our table explicitly include automatic refunds to nominated accounts in their T&C documents (but you still have to register to receive them):
- Click Energy
- Discover Energy
- Origin Energy
- Western Australia’s Synergy.
All the rest only provide a refund if you:
(a) know you can ask for it, and
(b) remember to ask for it.
What happens if you’re in credit when you decide to move to another electricity company?
This is far less obvious in most providers’ terms and conditions – many don’t mention it at all.
For example: Origin Energy’s media office told us that if a customer had already registered an account for credit refunds, the final credit would automatically be paid into that account.
Alinta, as we’ve already discussed, extinguishes solar feed in tariff credits at the end of its contract.
For most of the retailers we looked at, an end-of-contract credit isn’t explicitly mentioned. However, since all the retailers allow you to request the refund of a credit balance, we suppose if your final bill showed a credit, you’d have the right to get your money under whatever other rules govern credit balances. Just make sure you ask for it before your account is closed.