SA Power Networks is the principal electricity distribution network service provider in South Australia – the poles and wires that deliver the power to homes and businesses.
Every five years, SA Power Networks is required to undergo a regulatory reset process and submit a Regulatory Proposal to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER), which details their proposed business operations and service delivery. SA Power Networks undertook an extensive engagement program to help them develop their regulatory proposal – due to the AER in mid-2024. The People’s Panel was the culmination of this engagement process.
The People’s Panel (the Panel) was designed and delivered by democracyCo. The Panel brought together a diverse group of approximately 50 South Australians to participate in a 5-stage deliberative process over 6 days to answer the following questions –
- There are choices about the level of service that SA Power Networks offers, however all services come at a cost. Looking forward to 2025-2030 – we want to understand what customers consider is the best balance of service and price?
- Regulation requires SA Power Networks to consider export tariffs that reflect the cost of providing the service. How can the transition be phased in to maximise fairness and equity for all?
The participants on the Panel were supported through extensive expert advice – provided in many formats including through a deliberative guide, financial modelling from SA Power Networks – about the impact of their choices on price and they received the views and perspectives of stakeholders with diverse perspectives.
Head of Stakeholder Engagement. SA Power Networks
At democracyCo we design our processes to have impact. We work closely with our clients in the design phase, through the development of detailed Roadmaps, to understand their core objectives and then we design to meet these objectives. For this process two SA Power Networks objectives were that the process needed to understand what diverse South Australians agreed was an appropriate balance of service and price and they wanted to the process to build trust with their customers.
Building trusting relationships
Trust in SA Power Networks improved levels of trust by participants as a consequence of the process. The following statement on trust was tested in the pre and post surveys: “I trust SA Power Networks to listen to the community and make decisions in their best interests”. In the pre-poll, trust 46% responding positively to this statement, 42% neutrally and 12% negatively. In the post-survey, this lifted to 67% responding positively, 19% neutrally and 14% negatively.
Understanding where diverse South Australians agree
The panel selection process was designed to represent a diverse set of community. Participation in the panel was voluntary and selected from an initial pool of 350 people on a statistically informed basis. Several criteria were used to ensure the panel was representative of SA Power Networks customers. DemocracyCo recruited a group that was representative of the South Australian population in terms of age, gender, location and solar ownership. The group was also diverse in the following respects – homeownership and financial vulnerability.
The Panel reached consensus agreement (ie 80%+ agreement) on 15 of their 17 recommendations regarding the best balance of service to price. With regards to the question on Export Tariffs the Panel were split 50/50 on this question – and provided detailed explanation to SA Power Networks as to why they couldn’t reach agreement, providing SA Power Networks with great insight into how SA consumers are likely to respond to the reforms.