Monthly Archives: December 2014

Better ‘very’ late than never

LATE again! It’s always been a bit of a running theme at our place, despite my best efforts.

When our kids started high school they discovered that there was a Late Book in the Head’s antechamber. All entries had to be signed off by an appropriate adult. Their school was located far from here, and excuses that were standard fare in Warrandyte were decidedly novel in suburbia.

My eye ran down the page of preceding entries.

“Dentist … headache … optometrist … dentist …”

We soon changed that.

“A tree fell across our drive, and we had to wait for somebody to come with a chainsaw,” was a reason for missing the school bus on more than one occasion. I suppose I could’ve phoned somebody to ferry the kids to the bus stop but we were invariably cutting it fine and of course we didn’t find the fallen tree until we were leaving. No, we were just late. Sometimes very late.

“I slept in because I was out all night on a platypus survey.” An excuse to be used only sparingly, admittedly, but one of undeniable originality.

“I slept in because Mum’s car was being repaired and we had to get the bus home.”

That took some explaining. In those days there was no bus along Research Road after 7 p.m. so after a late finish at school we ended up having to walk several kilometres from the bridge. I seem to recall a black moonless night, too dark to see roadside puddles.

By the time we’d trudged up the last hill it was very late and we were wet through with squelching shoes. I did consider hiring a car, but doing without seemed so much more adventurous. And it was educational. I can vouch for that.

“One of our budgies started attacking the other budgies. We had to get another aviary so we could separate them. It took ages to catch her, and there was blood and feathers everywhere. I had to go and put a clean shirt on.” I remember some amusement at work as well when I phoned in late with that story.

“We got snowed in and missed our flight home.” Entirely true, Your Honour. On the last morning of a long weekend getaway, we awoke to find our car covered by a foot of snow and the only road out impassable. It took hours for the snowplough to get through. I didn’t realise that nobody at work had believed me until I took my photo album along a couple of weeks later. “Oh, you really DID get snowed in!” they exclaimed, looking amazed. I was a bit miffed by that. We seem to have excuses enough through natural causes – I can’t recall ever having to invent one.

“We had to find the baby Tawny Frogmouth and put it in a safe place.” It had fallen out of its nest. The parents fed it and looked after it at night, but we couldn’t leave it flapping helplessly on the ground during the day or the neighbour’s cats would have made short work of it. As it got stronger over succeeding weeks, the little beggar got harder and harder to find.

“We were in Queensland competing in Nationals and the beaches got shut down for two days because of sharks.

After that everything was running behind schedule …”

Well that was all over the TV news, with spectacular aerial footage of packs of sharks hunting a thick black cloud of sardine-like tiddlers along the shoreline. Nobody could argue with that.

But the excuse that I’ve had to use most frequently over recent years – an excuse that everybody understands, even those unfortunate enough to be buried in the wilds of suburbia – has just struck again.

“My computer won’t work – Windows keeps crashing! Damn!’

It’s obviously time to go right to the top for help.

“Dear Santa …”

Music to Isaac’s ears … and the Warrandyte community’s, too

JUST as Warrandytians gear up for another festive season, the McMullen family has something extra to cheer about this Christmas.

For this one will be the 10th Christmas that 12-year-old Isaac McMullen can hear the sound of tearing wrapping paper, can sing along to Christmas carols and listen to his family chatter over the dinner table.

Isaac is profoundly deaf and without his hearing aid and cochlear implant can only hear sounds as loud as a chainsaw or an aeroplane taking off.

“Isaac was first diagnosed on Christmas Eve 2002, so it went from being the worst Christmas ever, completely ruined, to just the happiest time when he was implanted, started speaking and could hear Christmas songs two years later,” his mother Mel told the Diary.

Mel first suspected Isaac was deaf after he slept peacefully through the loud noise of an industrial vacuum cleaner as a baby.

A worker at an early childhood centre told her she was just being paranoid, but after months of closely monitoring her son’s reactions as she intentionally dropped pots and pans around the house, she took Isaac in for an audiogram.

The McMullens at home

The McMullens at home

“After he was diagnosed, they told me Isaac could do oral deaf education, which would allow him to still develop his speech and language, or signing. However, if we wanted him to do oral our time was running out because he’d have to know all sounds before he turned two years
old,” Mel said.

His parents, determined for Isaac to have the same opportunities as every other child, had to fight long and hard to secure funding for his expensive implant, which costs thousands of dollars.

“We went through MRI and CAT scans to make sure he was the right candidate for it and they said no to start with. We had to appeal the decision.”

Mel successfully appealed the decision with the help of Professor Graeme Clark, the man responsible for the pioneering research and development of the bionic ear.

His work has brought hearing to more than 200,000 people across the world.

Mel’s great aunt, Gwen, who coincidentally had taught deaf children her entire life, also encouraged her to not give up.

Gwen lived in Warrandyte and was passionate about educating deaf children and she made Mel promise that she would keep fighting for Isaac’s implant.

“After seeing Isaac’s audiogram she burst into tears and she told me ‘get him implanted, you get this child to speak, do it for me’,” Mel said.

“She was 97 when she passed away, about eight months after Isaac was implanted. She glowed when we took him over and she got to hear him speak. She died a happy woman.”

Isaac now hears normally with his implant and hearing aid, which even has a waterproof cover, allowing him to go swimming with his three brothers.

His family says moving to Warrandyte has been one of the best things for Isaac because he gets to listen to the sounds of cockatoos, king parrots and rainbow lorikeets around their house every day.

Isaac is also doing extremely well in school at Ringwood North Primary, where his favourite subject is art.

A keen listener of music, he also plays the violin and the piano.

While it’s difficult for people with implants to perfectly mimic music, Isaac’s hearing has developed so well that he’s now starting to correct the sound as he plays sharps and flats on the violin.

“I’m really grateful for the implant because life without it would be sad, like black and white, no colour,” Isaac told the Diary.

As the first baby to receive a cochlear implant at the Melbourne Royal Children’s Hospital, Isaac has been credited with helping change some of the perceptions surrounding hearing impairment and deafness.

Earlier this year he travelled to Canberra where he gave a speech in front of the nation’s politicians about how his cochlear implant had transformed his life.

And after the New Year, Isaac will begin high school at Donvale Christian College.

“He will be one of the first profoundly deaf kids to go to a mainstream primary and secondary school, as far as we’re aware,” Mel said.

“It’s a pretty big thing and we’re hoping the government will have a look at and see that the path we chose for Isaac works so they can then give other hearing impaired kids the same opportunities.”

H2Pro crew take out the big one

WARRANDYTE has again trumped all other suburbs in Manningham after H2Pro Plumbing was named Business of the Year at the Manningham Business Excellence Awards last month.

The victory follows hot on the heels of Quinton’s IGA claiming the title last year.

Twenty-five businesses were nominated for this year’s Manningham Excellence Awards, with categories including hospitality, innovation, retail and professional services.

The awards recognise and celebrate businesses that have introduced a new process or improved an idea, method, technology, process or application resulting in improved business profitability and or social benefit.

H2Pro’s Tristan Wise, who does a lot of the behind the scenes work for the business, says winning was a “momentous” achievement.

“We didn’t think that we would actually win our category of Professional Services let alone Business of the Year. We feel extremely humble,” she said.

“The process of entering the awards not only highlighted a lot of areas that we want to improve on but how far we have come since we started.”

H2Pro started 14 years ago and is known for giving back to the community.

This year it has donated to various local fundraisers, organised educational presentations about bathroom trends and kitchen design, and has supported Melbourne-based charity Who Gives A Crap.

As part of the Who Gives A Crap campaign, H2Pro’s plumbers leave a free specially marked toilet roll at each client’s house, along with information about the lack of sanitation and clean water in developing countries, with the hope that

people will also choose to support the cause.

Tristan says she’s proud of how far the business has come since it was first established in 2000 and hopes H2Pro’s win inspires other small businesses around Warrandyte to enter next year’s awards.

“At H2Pro we are a merry band of three, Tony, director/plumber, John another star plumber, and myself behind the scenes,” she said.

“For most of the year, we are on call 24/7 and it’s hard work. We don’t have office space and we work from a small desk in our lounge room. So to be recognised and acknowledged for all of this really is thrilling and very rewarding.”

Reduce your electricity costs

NOTICED the hike in electricity bills and the confusing world of solar? The Diary’s DAVID HOGG offers a comprehensive analysis of the current state of play and proves there are ways you can save and reduce your bills.

A COUPLE of years ago, WarrandyteCAN conducted a major initiative to attempt to get an electricity retailer to provide competitive pricing for Warrandyte residents.

Alas, the task was too difficult and has become even more so since then, with new retailers springing up and a price war that is centred around how big a discount they’ll give you rather than on the bottom-line price you’ll pay.

The discount means nothing unless you know the price. The newer retailers tend to come in with low prices to corner the market, then raise them considerably during or after the first year.

At that same time they introduce a new product that is still competitive, but leaving their existing customers stuck on the old and now-expensive product. So, last year’s bargain is not necessarily this year’s continuing good price.

As with car and house insurance, it really pays to shop around every year. Few can be bothered to do this.

Perhaps the biggest killer in your electricity bill is the so-called service or supply charge which can vary between retailers from $1 to $1.50 per day, which means you can be paying over $500 a year before you’ve consumed any electricity at all. The other charges relate to the electricity you actually use.

Most Warrandyte residents will by now have smart meters. These are now read online and are available for you to read online through the portal at myhomeenergy.com.au.

The best tariff, which hopefully most readers are on, is the “Time of Use” also known as “Peak/Off-Peak” tariff.

This provides for peak time electricity at anywhere between 25 and 45 cents per kilowatt hour, and offpeak rates from 12 to 20 cents. The peak tariff applies between 7am and 11pm AEST weekdays only, so your weekend electricity is at a much cheaper rate. Note, however, that your meter does not know Daylight Saving, so currently the cheap rate runs from midnight to 8am.

Nearly all retailers offer a discount, but again beware: with some retailers the discount applies only to the consumption but not to the service charge, whereas with others it applies to the whole bill. Most retailers give the discount off the bill in question, but a few treat it as a discount for prompt payment and apply it to the next bill. With the latter, you’ll find it difficult to get the last discount back if you change retailers. I have developed a spreadsheet with the latest tariffs, discounts and billing methods for each supplier and it is interesting to note the differences in prices.

The government website energymadeeasy.gov.au suggests that the average yearly consumption of electricity by a family of four people in postcode 3113 is 6617kWh per year. Using this, and making various assumptions… that you have no solar panels, you are on the peak/ off-peak tariff, no concession, have overnight electric hot water heating, maximum discounts and consume 2558 kWh per year peak, and 4059 kWh off-peak, then as at December 2014 your annual total electricity bill would be with each retailer as
indicated in the table below left.

Looking at this table, you may consider changing retailers; but there are pitfalls. Even though our meters are no longer “read” by a meter reader, Ausnet Services (previously SP-Ausnet) still use a notional “date of next meter reading” at three-monthly intervals, and your change of retailer does not take effect until the next quarterly date.

Add to this a couple of weeks for paperwork to progress through the system, and a further 10-day cooling-off period, and it can be anything from one to four months before you will actually change. By then, the prices may have changed again.

This is a volatile market. It may also be worth researching whether your prospective new supplier’s customer service desk speaks a language you understand.

Some retailers may lock you into a two or three year contract. This is not a problem as the fees for breaking the contract are small, usually in the range of $20 to $40.

Tips for non-solar users:

If your retailer is one of those in the bottom half of the table, or if your bill is considerably higher than in the table, ring them and tell them you’re considering changing supplier. Ask if you’re on their best plan and suggest that they offer you a better deal. They may well do this.

Your retailer may give you a slightly bigger discount if you elect to pay automatically by credit card or direct debit, or if you elect to receive your bills by email, or if you are an RACV member.

If you are a concession card holder, tell your retailer and you’ll get a useful government rebate.

If your washing machine, clothes dryer or dishwasher has a “delayed start” function, consider running it after midnight or before 7am during the week.

If you have a pool pump, put it on a timer and operate it at night for filtering.

Do not be persuaded to change to a “Flexible Pricing” tariff in which you have three rates – Peak, Shoulder and Off-peak – with some seasonal variations and differences at the weekend, unless you have really researched your usage. I have yet found an instance where “Flexible Pricing” would be cheaper than “Peak/Off- Peak” in a residential situation.

Think very carefully before you consider putting in solar panels; you’ve missed the boat. They’re paying you 6.2 cents for the electricity you sell them and charging you 18c at night and 30c or more during the day to buy it. It will cost you $6000 to $10,000 for a 4kW system installed, and you’ll be saving some $400 to $600 per year in bills at current rates with no guarantee of future pricing, making a 10 to 18-year payback period.

For concession card holders, there are two Victorian government concessions that apply. These have both been quietly watered down in the past 18 months. The “Annual Electricity Concession” now gives you 17.5% discount off the consumption and service components of your bill after discounts have been applied and any solar credits deducted, and excluding the first $171.60 (the Carbon Price Threshold) of billing in any year. The “Service to Property Concession” is only good for grey nomads or those who are away from their property for most of a billing period, and pegs the service charge for that bill to be no more than the consumption charge.

Now we’ll look at the rates for those with solar panels, and here is a right old muddle. Those people with foresight who installed their panels before 2012 receive the premium feed-in tariff (PFIT) for electricity they export to the grid at the rate of 60c per kWh guaranteed until November 1, 2024. Those who installed panels in 2012 receive the transitional feed-in tariff (TFIT) at 25c per kWh until the end of 2016.

Those who installed after 2012 would have benefitted from the falling price of purchase and installation, but get bugger all for their electricity export, currently 8c per kWh (FIT) dropping to 6.2c from January 1 next year.

Some retailers claim that they “top up” the government rates by an extra 6 to 10 cents, but often this is a smokescreen. The catch used to be that you get the promised discount off the whole bill, “not just the consumption like other retailers but with us, madam, it’s off the whole bill so it includes the service charge as well”.

Yes, but what he fails to tell you is that the “whole bill” also includes your solar credit which they’ll deduct before they apply the discount, so you’re not getting the implied benefits at all. Recently they’ve changed tack. The latest scam is that the discount plan offered by some retailers (three at the current count) in advertisements does not apply to customers with solar power; they get a very reduced discount on their consumption or none at all.

I have run the spreadsheet again for those with solar export. Again it makes various assumptions – that you own a 4kW solar system, it generates 5300kWh per year of which 1800 is used in the home and 3500 exported to the grid, you purchase 1817 kWh peak and 3000 off-peak from your retailer, and other assumptions as before. Then at January 2015 your annual total electricity bill would be with each retailer in the table below right.

Tips for solar users:

Most of the tips for non-solar users above apply.

If you are on the PFIT or TFIT, try to run as much as possible at night or weekends. It’s better to export during the day and get paid 60c or 25c and then buy it back at night at 18c. The reverse will apply when your tariff expires at the end of 2024 or 2016 respectively; then you’ll be better using your solar to power the house during the day If it’s not in the fine print, check whether they are giving you the promised discount on everything you buy from them, or whether they are deducting your export refund first.

Check that the discount you expected actually applies if you have solar.

Finally, remember that this is a rapidly changing market, and that prices and tips quoted here can be out of date very soon. It pays to compare prices annually.

Merry Christmas

Anderson’s Creek Primary School Grade Sixers Jordan, Tayah, Alicia C, Roxy and Alicia H get into the Christmas spirit at the school’s annual Christmas carols night. The Warrandyte Diary wishes all our readers a Merry Christmas and a safe and happy new year! The Diary returns in February.