DARWIN, AAP – Pre-paid access to electricity is putting disadvantaged Australians living in substandard housing at risk, particularly when their power is cut on dangerously hot days, researchers say.
In some remote Northern Territory communities, 91 per cent of homes had their electricity disconnected in 2018-19, according to a new Australian National University study.
Data from 3300 households’ smart meters in 28 remote Indigenous communities shows 74 per cent of homes using prepaid electricity meters had their power cut more than 10 times.
“Remote Indigenous communities suffer severe energy insecurity, which worsens during extreme temperatures,” economist Thomas Longden said on Friday.
“These households are more likely to experience disconnection from electricity on very hot or very cold days.”
Many homes are poorly built and “people are still living rough”.
“Houses are hot in summer with no insulation and burning like an oven, and in winter they are freezing like a fridge,” researcher Norman Frank Jupurrurla said.
The impact was greatest in the central dry grassland climate zone, which is located in central Australia where the nights can be bitterly cold during winter and extremely hot days during summer.
“We found that almost all households faced disconnection and the rates of disconnection are higher during either extreme temperatures,” Dr Longden said.
Alice Springs-based medical doctor Simon Quilty said the cuts were punishing Indigenous communities.
“Energy poverty amplifies poor health in remote communities, and this runs hand-in-hand with very poor quality housing,” he said.
In extreme weather, these homes can regularly become dangerously hot when the power is cut and the inside temperature rises without working air conditioners.
“Food and medicines in fridges spoil and families cannot do their washing,” Dr Quilty said.
People are forced to crowd into other houses where the power is still on.
Researchers found that homes in the central climate zones with high electricity use had a one-in-three chance of a same-day disconnection on very hot or very cold days.
“Temperature-related disconnections are driven by an increase in electricity used to heat and cool homes,” Dr Longden said.
Dr Quilty said affected remote communities were paying the price for an energy regulation policy failure that has failed to acknowledge climate change.
“It’s dangerous for Indigenous communities. This situation needs to change,” he said.
The study said numerous policy changes are required to reduce the frequency, duration and negative effects of disconnection from electricity for remote-living Indigenous residents.
The study was published in Nature Energy.