The big energy companies ‘going green’


How much thought do you give to the energy powering your kettle and toaster in the morning? Do you care where or how that energy is generated? Australia’s big energy companies certainly seem to think you care, with two of them going out of their way to convince consumers of their renewable energy credentials. But how green really are these big power companies?

AGL and EnergyAustralia have both undertaken something of a rebranding in the last few weeks, with wind turbines, solar panels and green initiatives now taking pride of place on their respective websites, as well as images of families enjoying the great Australian outdoors – and even planting trees! Yes, it looks like they are working hard to change perceptions about big bad energy companies mining coal and the like.

While some smaller energy retailers, such as Powershop and Momentum Energy, have always been proponents of renewable energy generation, it now seems the big energy companies are also answering the call from consumers. A Canstar Blue survey of energy customers recently found that two-thirds (64%) would like to see their energy retailer investing in renewable energy. AGL and EnergyAustralia have long been two of the leading solar power providers in Australia, but it’s only now that we see them shout from the rooftops about their green initiatives, with AGL declaring details of its intentions to ‘get out of coal’.

These two energy giants – along with Origin Energy – hold a combined market share of around 75%. Given their size, some argue these retailers haven’t been serious enough in the past about renewable energy, labelling them as ‘the dirty three’. So have these major energy companies really turned a new leaf, or is this new approach just a ploy to distract customers from rising power prices?

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AGL Rebranding

AGL updated its public image in April 2017 with a new logo and website. The featured headline on the AGL home page says the company is ‘getting out of goal’, starting in 2022 and ending by 2050. Simultaneously, while AGL already operates Australia’s largest solar and wind farms, it claims it has dedicated another $3 billion towards renewable energy infrastructure. This is expected to add another 1000Mw of generation capacity to the grid.

On the consumer side of things, the rebranding didn’t result in any changes to its existing energy products, instead focussing its image around its current line-up of environmentally-friendly programs and offers. This includes its solar deals, electric vehicle products, GreenPower add-ons and its Future Forests Fund. You can hear about ‘The Plan’ in the AGL video below.

AGL Future Forests

AGL Future Forests is an initiative launched in July 2016 that lets customers completely offset their carbon emissions, making your home a carbon-neutral zone. For $1 extra a week, AGL will purchase Australian forestry carbon credits equivalent to offset the carbon emissions of your energy usage. The money from purchasing these credits is then re-invested into further Australian tree planting programs. Customers are free to opt out of this program whenever they want without penalty.

AGL Solar

AGL is a one-stop solar shop, offering panels, batteries, installation and ongoing plans for customers once they have their solar system up and running. It also has a monitoring app which lets customers with smart meters check their solar output and household electricity usage, making it easy to manage your homes energy.

AGL has also undertaken an innovative leap with its ‘virtual power plant’. It is currently installing and connecting 1,000 homes across Adelaide with discount battery storage, creating a 7Mw power backup electricity system. This is hoped to improve grid-stability and reduce rising costs.

AGL Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicle owners can get a specific electricity deal to support your electric vehicle needs. If you drive fairly infrequently, then your best option would be an AGL EV controlled load deal, which will charge lower rates for electricity used on your car. Alternatively, for only $1 per day, AGL will give you unlimited electricity to charge your car. It’s a great option for those who drive a lot and has the added bonus of knowing exactly how much your car is costing you to run.

How environmentally-friendly is AGL?

By its own admission, AGL concedes that it’s Australia’s largest greenhouse gas emitter. However, it claims to also be the largest privately-owned operator and developer of renewable assets in Australia.

In the 2015 GreenPeace report into Australia’s greenest electricity companies, AGL ranked ninth out of 23 energy retailers. This score considered that AGL has invested heavily in renewable energy generation, and that its GreenPower plans are cheaper than average. Where it fell short however, was its investment in coal seam gas and its publicised scepticism about maintaining the current Renewable Energy Target (RET).

The problem for AGL is its size. It owns billions of dollars in coal generation assets and it will take decades for it to transition away from this industry in a way that doesn’t compromise the nation’s electricity supply. It doesn’t give customers as many options to get involved with renewable investment as some other retailers do, but with AGL, you at least know that it’s working toward a sustainable future… Eventually.

EnergyAustralia Rebranding

In January 2017, EnergyAustralia revamped its public image by emphasising its commitment to renewable energy generation. It did this by promoting its solar products and introducing the PureEnergy20 deal, giving all new customers free GreenPower add-ons. EnergyAustralia also says it can make your home 100% carbon neutral at zero cost to customers.

EnergyAustralia PureEnergy20

New customers who sign up to EnergyAustralia’s Flexi Saver plan receive 20% GreenPower for the first 12 months, at no extra cost. What this means is that EnergyAustralia will match 20% of your electricity usage with renewable energy credit purchases. After 12 months, customers are automatically removed from the PureEnergy20 deal, but they can opt back in, or select the PureEnergy10 or PureEnergy100 deals, which give you 10% or 100% GreenPower respectively for an additional cost.

EnergyAustralia Solar

EnergyAustralia has a wide range of solar panel and inverter packages to suit customers with varying needs. The feed-in tariff rates offered aren’t exceptional, usually in line with recommendations, or the regulated minimum. In New South Wales however, customers can purchase a solar booster deal, for feed-in tariffs of up to 12.2c/kWh.

Carbon-neutral electricity

EnergyAustralia customers who have been with the retailer for at least six months can opt to have their carbon emissions offset by EnergyAustralia, at no extra cost. To do this, EnergyAustralia purchases a range of carbon offset units in things like renewable energy projects, as well as land management and tree planting programs. To make your home carbon neutral, go to the EnergyAustralia website and enter your account number and email – it’s that simple. The program will run until the end of 2018.

How environmentally-friendly is EnergyAustralia?

EnergyAustralia says it’s committed to a green future, but that represents a complete policy U-turn compared with only two years ago. According to the GreenPeace guide to green energy companies which rated EnergyAustralia tenth (behind AGL), the retailer owns high emissions intensity coal plants, it supported weakening the renewable energy target, and its solar offers are more expensive than its non-solar offers.

Of course, a fair bit has changed since then. EnergyAustralia continues to heavily invest in renewable infrastructure, it gives new customers free GreenPower, and it has a number of comprehensive energy efficiency guides and solar solutions

So, have AGL and EnergyAustralia really gone green?

Well, yes and no. Both AGL and EnergyAustralia have definitely made positive steps towards becoming more environmentally friendly, but they aren’t quite there yet. AGL is focusing on building renewable infrastructure for the future, but doesn’t give its customers as many options as other retailers to directly support renewable investment today. EnergyAustralia is the opposite. While it lets its customers support renewables generation today through free GreenPower and its free carbon-neutral program, unlike AGL, EnergyAustralia has not yet announced if or when it will divert away from fossil fuels.

If environmental responsibility is important to you as an electricity customer, then you might want to consider Powershop, Diamond Energy or Momentum Energy. GreenPeace considered these three retailers as the most environmentally-friendly in its report, as each encourages renewable energy while entirely opposing fossil fuels. They also have plenty of deals for customers who are looking to minimise their carbon footprint.

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