A WICKHAM-based power retailer, Urth Energy, has gone into voluntary administration, putting more than 20 people out of work and stranding an estimated 800 electricity customers.
Urth Energy, which billed itself as a "boutique" energy retailer focusing on solar energy systems, appointed Newcastle insolvency expert Brad Morelli, of Jirsch Sutherland, as external administrator on Wednesday.
As a result, the Australian Energy Regulator suspended the company from operating in the national electricity market on Thursday.
The regulator’s acting chair, Cristina Cifuentes, said customers had been transferred from “the failed electricity retailer” to other suppliers to ensure their electricity supply continued without interruption.
"The AER has ensured customers of Urth Energy were transferred to new retailers,” Ms Cifuentes said.
“Depending on where the customers are located they were transferred to either AGL, Origin Energy, or EnergyAustralia. The AER is responsible for overseeing the national Retailer of Last Resort scheme. The scheme is designed to ensure that in the event of retailer failure, arrangements are in place to ensure that customers continue to receive electricity and/or gas supply. If an energy retailer fails, the AER has the power to transfer customers to a new retailer.”
Ms Cifuentes said cutomers affected by Urth Energy’s failure were not obliged to stay with the provider of last resort.
Urth Energy is the second small retailer to go under in less than a year, after GO Energy went into voluntary administration in April 2016.
Ironically, Urth’s problems came to light just as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was triggering a national debate over energy security with his insistence that coal would remain a major part of Australia’s energy mix for decades to come with cleaner and more efficient new-era power stations.
Urth Energy featured in the Newcastle Herald last year, when a director, Richard Hermens, said a lack of parking was forcing Urth out of Wickham.
“We don’t want to leave Newcastle – we were born and bred here,” he said at the time. “But, unfortunately, we’ve been forced out. We can’t afford to keep worrying about where to park all the time.”
Administrator Brad Morelli said on Friday that he had appointed as administrator to six companies in the related group. It was too early to say conclusively what had gone wrong beyond saying there appeared to be cash-flow problems. Most of the company’s 27 employees had lost their jobs but a few were being kept on to help the administration.
At this stage he was hoping the company could be sold.