Regulators have expanded the potential for cooperation in the energy sector.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has granted new interim authorisation for an expanded range of measures allowing participants in the gas and electricity markets to work together to help safeguard Australia’s energy supply during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In early April, the ACCC granted interim authorisation to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), allowing energy market participants to co-operate on certain measures intended to maintain secure and reliable energy supplies while the pandemic continues.

Now, the consumer watchdog has granted interim authorisation for an expanded set of measures, including allowing market participants to share information about the operation of critical facilities and any risks to their continued operation.

AEMO is also able to notify the ACCC of further types of conduct it needs to undertake in order to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ACCC has expressly excluded any conduct relating to gas availability from this new interim authorisation because at this stage it is not persuaded about the need for coordinated conduct regarding gas.

Importantly, the new interim authorisation imposes the same strict conditions as the original interim authorisation, including that AEMO report regularly on any measures taken, a ban on any contracts that would outlast the ACCC’s authorisation period, and a requirement that parties to the authorisation continue to comply with other conditions of authorisation that apply to conduct occurring under this authorisation.

“It is essential that Australian businesses and households have access to reliable and efficient energy supplies during this difficult time. There is a clear need for co-operation between industry participants to prevent any disruption to these supplies,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“However, it is important to note that this co-operation cannot extend to making agreements about energy prices or to sharing confidential information about pricing or profits. It will also only take place during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“We are going to closely monitor the effect of these arrangements and assess when it is appropriate for this authorisation to be revoked,” Mr Sims said.

The need for co-operation in the energy sector during the pandemic was raised at last month’s COAG Energy Council. COAG’s newly formed Energy Coordination Mechanism, made up of government and industry leaders, will be kept informed about measures taken to secure energy supplies. The ACCC will also be informed of such measures through this authorisation.

More information is available on the ACCC public register at Australian Energy Market Operator.