Family Forum: Electricity Bills and Tariffs

Wondering how electricity tariff systems work.


I find my electricity bill very difficult to understand and it bothers me. For starters, my bill has two meter readings and two separate usage charges – one for peak and one for controlled load. What does controlled load mean and what is the difference between them?


Electricity bills are confusing at the best of times and even more so when filled with unfamiliar jargon. Controlled load refers to one or more eligible appliances in the home that consume electricity during a fixed time period, generally 11pm to 7am, and benefit from a lower charge or tariff per kWh.

Most consumers are familiar with the term off-peak or what, in days gone by, was referred to as the J-tariff. These days retailers talk about controlled load, although two other terms – meaning the same thing – are commonly found on electricity bills: ancillary load and dedicated circuit.

The most common eligible appliance is a hot water storage system of 125 litres or more. Other eligible appliances include swimming pool and spa heaters, underfloor heating and heat bank storage heaters. If you have one or more of these appliances you are eligible for the off-peak (controlled load) tariff, which is roughly half the peak tariff. The peak meter reading tracks your electricity usage for everything apart from the off-peak consumption. It could be described as your general meter since it includes all the appliances plugged into the wall, as well as lighting and airconditioning. So, for example, turning a washing machine on after 11pm at night doesn’t mean cheaper running costs since it is hooked up to the peak circuit.

The charge or tariff for peak usage is roughly double the off-peak tariff.

As peak and off-peak electrical circuits are separate, they are metered separately. However, the generic term “off-peak” can mean different things in different parts of the country. In some states and territories, off-peak could refer to a time-of-use tariff, which is a lower tariff on the peak or general circuit at certain times of the day.

For this reason, it does make sense to talk about controlled load, which is necessarily a separate electrical circuit.

If you are ever unsure about something on your bill, contact your provider.

Another useful source to help you manage essential household utilities including electricity, gas, water and communications is ConnectEd (website: Staff work with community members to understand bills, identify opportunities to use less and save, look for better deals, and talk with utilities companies to get a better, fairer outcome. ConnectEd is delivered across SA by partners UnitingCare Wesley Bowden, Uniting Communities, and Uniting Country SA, with funding from the State Government Department of Human Services. ConnectEd builds on the partners’ experience of delivering the Utilities Literacy Program (2013-17), as well as other utilities-related programs.

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