A remote Northern Territory primary school has been slugged with an unexpected $300,000 electricity bill due to a long-term billing error by power provider and mining giant Rio Tinto.
- Rio Tinto provides power to the remote mining township of Nhulunbuy
- The company has blamed an invoicing error for the school’s unexpected bill
- The NT Education Minister said the bill would not affect the school staffing budget
Nhulunbuy Primary School, on the Gove Peninsula in Arnhem Land, is now in the process of paying back the hefty bill, which Rio Tinto said was the fault of an “electricity invoicing discrepancy”.
A spokeswoman for NT Education Minister Lauren Moss confirmed the error from 2019 and said the cash-strapped education department was now in the process of paying it back, in increments.
“Over a period of time, the power corporation responsible for the provision of electricity in Nhulunbuy did not charge the correct amount for electricity usage at Nhulunbuy Primary School,” she said.
“Rio Tinto, the power suppliers, have since rectified the matter.”
Sources in the Nhulunbuy Primary School community said the school council had been worried about the impact the bill could have on the school’s staffing and infrastructure budgets.
However, the Minister’s spokeswoman said efforts had since been made to stem any budget fallout.
“The school, supported by the department, has worked to negotiate a payment plan to cover the outstanding amount,” she said.
A Rio Tinto spokesman said the error was independently audited by the education department, after which the “the school proposed a payment plan, which Rio Tinto accepted”.
The Nhulunbuy Primary source said the school council had late last year planned to ask for a waiver to the bill, but both the department and Rio denied any knowledge of this request going ahead.
“The school has been making payments in accordance with the agreed plan and has made no approach to Rio Tinto or the Nhulunbuy Corporation Limited regarding the terms of the plan,” the Rio Tinto spokesman said.
The bill was expected to be repaid to the mining company by May 2022.
Rio Tinto provides power to the township of Nhulunbuy, where it has a 40-year mining lease agreement with Yolngu traditional owners and continues to operate a bauxite mine.
Over the past 12 months, the company has faced increased complaints and scrutiny over long, ongoing power outages and its poor communication with the township in explaining their causes.