While the rest of the media might have been scratching for stories as we run into the break, it’s good to see they’re not letting up at The Daily Telegraph, a paper with the misfortune to be so poorly regarded that more than a fifth of people who’ve read it say they have “no trust at all” in its contents.

In particular, it’s commendable that Gemma Jones is still going strong after a full year cobbling together any old crap she can lay her hands on to implement editor Paul Whittaker’s call for the Greens and Labor to be smitten hip-and-thigh. While not quite up there in the full-on stupidity stakes as her effort to warn about Wayne Swan bringing in a congestion tax, her effort today to attack smart meters as a new form of Green lunacy maintains the high standard of logic-free, uncontaminated-by-facts “campaigning journalism” we’ve come to know and love.

The end of 2011 wouldn’t be complete without running the rule over the efforts of one of the press gallery’s best fiction writers one more time, if only to yet again dissect the way News Limited conducts its “journalism”.

Lambasting a “Gillard government power proposal”, Jones today warns:

“The plan would involve a statewide rollout of so-called ‘smart meters’, which have caused anger among some consumers whose bills have risen sharply. Other proposals put forward in the paper include minimum energy standards for appliances, rebates and green building regulations. There is also a bizarre plan allowing energy companies to remotely control home airconditioners in high-demand periods in return for a discount at other times — a move experts say would hit western Sydney hard.”

Just think, you could be sitting there on a stinking hot day in western Sydney — the sort that would prompt a “Sydney swelters!” headline from The Tele — and Christine Milne, sitting in some low-carbon impact ivory tower in Tasmania sipping a Fair Trade non-GM soyaccino, could issue a decree for power companies to turn your aircon off, leaving you to, well, swelter. Meantime, your power bills have gone through the roof because of a “smart meter”.

Alas, Jones fails to note the whole point of the time-of-use metering enabled by smart meters — sorry, “so-called smart meters”, because they’re probably not smart at all, right? — is to enable people to know when they can switch electricity usage to non-peak periods in order to save money. It’s a bit like the traffic congestion charge for which Jones turned to a Wauchope truckie for an opinion.

But anyway, no matter. Where is this “plan” to take over our airconditioners and impose so-called smart meters on us? What is this “Gillard government power proposal”? Well, it’s an issues paper released on Tuesday. There are no “proposals” or “plans” of any kind in it, just a large number of questions. And in fact, smart meters — sorry, my fault again, “so-called smart meters” — are barely mentioned in it, and there are no proposals of any kind about them.

The paper only mentions smart meters three times, twice in footnotes, and once to note that large electricity users have access to time-of-use metering so they can reduce electricity costs, but households generally don’t — a situation The Tele would presumably like to see remain.

Nor is there any “bizarre plan” to “allow energy companies to remotely control home airconditioners”. “Direct load control” is one of several options identified as ways of reducing peak electricity demand, and involves consumers agreeing to electricity providers adjusting high-contribution appliances like airconditioners or hot water systems. This would involve, say, cuts in your electricity bill if the company could switch your airconditioner to a lower setting for five minutes and then returning it to its previous setting to manage load across a region during peak demand periods.

In short, the entire rationale for Jones’ article simply doesn’t exist.

The issues paper discusses what a national “Energy Savings Initiative” might look like, and in doing so draws heavily on existing energy efficiency schemes in NSW, Victoria and South Australia. The NSW Energy Savings Scheme has been operating since 2009 and was reviewed by IPART in October — and found to have saved consumers hundreds of millions of dollars. The Coalition has called for the state-based schemes to be replaced with a single national scheme, which is exactly the point of the issues paper.

But let’s ignore that and ask someone who really sticks up for the interests of Sydney people what they think about electricity consumption. What are some great ways to “make your home a 21st century eco-zone”? Well, you could “avoid using airconditioning”. You could use “green power” that is “electricity sourced from environmentally friendly, renewable energy sources”. And then there’s smart meters, which enable “homeowners to save money on energy bills by measuring their electricity use every 30 minutes. They then pay for power under a time-based pricing scheme. An internal clock records the date and time of day the electricity is used — and whether it is used during peak, off-peak and shoulder-peak periods. This gives homeowners the opportunity to monitor and control their power usage.”

Hang on, who’s spouting this green nonsense about smart meters and turning off airconditioning? Why, The Daily Telegraph in August 2007, in a document proudly preserved at News Ltd’s “One Degree” website.

I rate this one 4 out of 5 Jones Units on the scale of stupid. A quality end to an outstanding year.

Peter Fray

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