CONSUMERS will no longer be able to compare electricity prices using a Choice service after it decided a lack of competition made it pointless.

The move comes as household electricity bills are set to surge due to rising energy prices and the federal government’s planned emissions trading scheme.

The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal is finalising plans to approve rises of as much as 62 per cent over the next few years, with a decision expected later this month.

But a Choice spokesman, Christopher Zinn, said the consumers’ group had decided to mothball its service in NSW, CHOICEswitch, until the benefits of competition can come to this state. and instead focus on energy efficiency.

The service allowed customers to compare electricity prices and find the cheapest supplier.

”We find there’s more benefit to consumers by refocusing on energy-efficiency measures than switching providers,” he said.

”It’s a pity because in Victoria they have full retail competition – when will it come here?”

Mr Zinn said the lack of competition in NSW meant that cost comparisons between rival electricity suppliers were too minor to be worthwhile.

Meanwhile, the Energy and Water Ombudsman is seeing a surge in complaints as households struggle to pay their utility bills following earlier price rises. In NSW, a large number of households have remained on fixed electricity tariffs that are controlled by the government, unlike states such as Victoria and South Australia, where tariffs are less regulated.

The lack of price difference between those on private contracts and the regulated tariffs in NSW has resulted in households shifting back to regulated tariffs over the past 18 months.

The price regulator estimates that as many as a quarter of households who decided to switch electricity retailer in 2008-09 were reverting back to a regulated tariff.

By June last year, 33 per cent of households were on competitive electricity tariffs, well below levels in other states, with South Australia at 66 per cent and Queensland at 45 per cent.

Mr Zinn said it was not possible to compare retail electricity prices between the states because of the differing pricing structures.

”It’s hard to compare, although electricity bills are rising by sizeable amounts around the country,” he said.

You can find this and similar articles on the Sydney Morning Herald website.