Searching for an electricity provider is complicated enough, even if you're just looking for the basics. And even if you secure a great price, it's a gamble as to whether the customer service will be up to snuff. (We all know the special hell of spending half your day trying to get through to customer service – only to be disconnected at the crucial moment.)
And if you care about the environment too, good luck finding a retailer who'll tick all the boxes.
But don't despair: you don't need to start building an off-grid home so you never have to deal with an electricity company again. We've assessed 27 energy retailers and scored them on their green credentials, customer service and number of complaints – so you don't have to wade through the internet trying to find the best provider for you.
You might be surprised to know that some of the biggest companies are among the worst
Unfortunately, as you'd expect, there are some pretty ordinary companies out there – and you might be surprised to know that some of the biggest players are among the worst.
So here are five that we suggest avoiding, unless you have a penchant for ordinary customer service and trashing the planet.
How can you tell which energy retailer is best?
We analysed data from 27 Australian energy retailers and scored them based on their environmental credentials and customer service. We've also detailed which areas they supply, their market share, who owns them, and which retailers are investing back into Australia by establishing their customer service centres locally.
If you want to know more about the company's environmental approach and where they source their electricity, we outline this in each company's review. (We take this data from the Green Electricity Guide developed by Greenpeace and the Total Environment Centre, or TEC).
We also report on any press that the company has received in the past few years so you can see whether they've been playing fair or not.
While for many people cost is a major factor when choosing a retailer, there are other factors that could affect your experience with a particular company
It's easy to be swayed by special deals and discounts, but remember to make sure you read the fine print before committing. And while for many people cost is a major factor when choosing a retailer, there are other aspects to consider that could affect your experience with a particular company.
We report on three key areas to help you choose the best provider for your needs:
- Environmental credentials
- Call response.
The worst performing energy retailers
AGL: 'abominable' rating for its green credentials.
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 53%
- Green electricity score: 12%
- Complaints score: 99%
- Call response score: 63%
Supplying electricity to more than 2.1 million households, AGL covers nearly 21% of residential customers in Australia.
If you're environmentally conscious, this probably isn't the provider for you: AGL received an abominable rating for its green credentials. It's the country's biggest climate polluter, accounting for about eight percent of national greenhouse gas emissions.
It sources 83% of its energy from burning coal, and plans to keep burning coal until 2045. It has extensive investments in coal seam gas (fracking) and coal power stations, and is involved in mining coal, not just burning it. And it copped a $15,000 fine from the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) in 2021 for alleged air pollution offences.
AGL is the country's biggest climate polluter, accounting for about eight percent of national greenhouse gas emissions
In fact, its environmental credentials are so poor that they've actually declined sharply since 2019, from 7 out of 10 to 1.2 out of 10 – so not only is it a poor performer, it's actually getting worse.
AGL's complaint numbers may seem low on the face of it – 0.8% of AGL customers lodged complaints against the company – but that figure actually represents 17,793 people. That's quite a lot of unhappy customers. However, the company has improved since the 2019–20 reporting period, when 48,330 customers lodged complaints.
If you're trying to get in touch with AGL, you can expect to wait an average of 68 seconds for your call to be answered. It's not terrible, but it's below the average for energy retailers.
Want to know more? Read our review of AGL.
ActewAGL: shares AGL's poor environmental rating.
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 54%
- Green electricity score: 13%
- Complaints score: 99%
- Call response score: 62%
Available only in the ACT and parts of NSW, ActewAGL is partly Australian owned. Because it supplies energy and gas from AGL, it shares AGL's poor environmental rating.
It's a smaller company, servicing just under 170,000 customers. But of these, 969 lodged a complaint with the company in 2021–22. And if you have a problem with the company, you'll have to wait to get through to the customer service team: only 62% of customer service calls are answered within 30 seconds, and the average wait time is 97 seconds.
If you're after more information, read our ActewAGL review.
Origin Energy: planning to burn coal until 2032.
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 55%
- Green electricity score: 16%
- Complaints score: 99%
- Call response score: 64%
The largest provider in the country, Origin Energy supplies more than 27% of residential customers. It's the fourth-largest climate polluter in the country, but claims to be the largest buyer of utility-scale solar in Australia, and is one of the few carbon-neutral energy retailers.
But it scored poorly in our green energy assessment with just 1.5 out of 10 stars. It's heavily involved in fracking and lobbies for support in this area. It's also trying to open up fracking operations in the NT, and is aiming to expand oil and gas mining in Queensland's fragile Channel Country region. On top of all that, it's planning to burn coal until 2032.
Origin is trying to open up fracking operations in the NT, and is aiming to expand oil and gas mining in Queensland's fragile Channel Country region
So, there are lots of environmental reasons not to go with Origin, but how does it fare in terms of customer service? Not great, but it is improving in some areas.
If you're calling Origin, the average wait time to have your call answered is 82 seconds, which is pretty ordinary – but it's a vast improvement on its wait time in 2019–20, which was 145 seconds. A total of 32,567 of Origin Energy's 2.3 million customers lodged a complaint about the company.
Although its customer service has room for improvement, far and away the biggest contributor to its poor score is its environmental credentials. Here's more about Origin Energy's review.
If you're keen to find a more environmentally friendly company, we'll talk you through how to find the best green electricity provider.
Sumo Power: allegedly disconnected 143 customers without proper warning, and paid $500,000 in penalties.
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 56%
- Green electricity score: 35%
- Complaints score: 99%
- Call response score: 40%
If you're wanting to simplify your bills, Sumo is one way to go: the company is a one-stop shop for internet and electricity. It has no lock-in contracts, which is just as well, because you probably wouldn't want to stick with this company.
Sumo has a far better green electricity score than the previous companies we've named, due in part to the fact that it isn't involved in fossil fuel extraction – though it does buy energy from a coal-dominated open market.
But it's not exactly enviro-conscious: it has minimal support for renewable energy, doesn't have an active stance on strong climate policy, and hasn't committed to ending coal use by 2030.
What really lets the company down is its customer service. With a call response score of just 40%, Sumo had the worst rating in our review
But what really lets the company down is its customer service. With a call response score of just 40%, Sumo had the worst rating in our review. That means that only 40% of people had their calls to Sumo answered within 30 seconds, but the average wait time was 106 seconds. Not great, but definitely an improvement on its 174 second wait time in 2019–20.
Worse, though, is its track record for treating customers poorly: in 2020, it allegedly disconnected 143 customers without proper warning, and paid $500,000 in penalties. It's a pretty nasty story, which involved Sumo Power staff creating a "wall of shame" of customers who'd missed bill payments, and then allegedly wrongfully disconnecting their electricity.
It's also been fined $1.2 million by the ACCC and ordered to refund $800,000 to 7700 Victorian customers for misleading them about its electricity price plans. And in case that wasn't enough, it was also fined for breaching telemarketing laws in 2019.
Need we say more? You can read our full Sumo Power review if you want to know more about the company's track record.
EnergyAustralia: second biggest carbon polluter in the country.
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 56%
- Green electricity score: 14%
- Complaints score: 98%
- Call response score: 70%
As the second biggest carbon polluter in Australia, EnergyAustralia received an understandably low green electricity score in our review. But it's actually become worse over time, dropping to just 1.5 stars out of 10, compared with 6 out of 10 in 2019–20.
And it doesn't look like it plans to significantly change that: it reportedly has the least ambitious decarbonisation goals of the 'big 3' energy providers, planning to burn coal until 2040 and being involved in mining coal as well as burning it.
EnergyAustralia reportedly has the least ambitious decarbonisation goals of the 'big 3' energy providers
It does have one carbon-neutral product, but the company as a whole isn't carbon neutral.
As far as customer service is concerned, EnergyAustralia does OK, but don't expect to get through straight away when you call: the average wait time for your call to be answered is 111 seconds. Don't think that sounds like too long to wait? Some people do: five percent of people hang up before their call is answered. That said, 70% of all calls are answered within 30 seconds.
A total of 21,702 of EnergyAustralia’s 1.4 million customers lodged a complaint about the company.
Read more in our EnergyAustralia review.
Stock images: Getty unless otherwise stated.