The NSW government has been accused of understating how much money is returned to the public from the state's electricity networks in an attempt to "prepare the ground" for privatisation of the assets, a new report says.
Premier Mike Baird's plan to privatise half the state's electricity poles and wires is "crazy" because it will sell off high-earning assets just as the pay-offs from major upgrades are coming into effect, the report by accounting professor Bob Walker and former NSW treasury official Betty Con Walker says.
Mr Baird has made the privatisation of 49 per cent of the electricity network the centrepiece of his $20 billion infrastructure revitalisation plan for the state.
The Walker report says accounting changes adopted in 2013 had the effect of reducing the reported profits from the electricity networks, which return a dividend and tax revenue to the state government.
Dr Bob Walker said an increase in the depreciable value of distributor Ausgrid by $2.9 billion in 2012-13 effectively reduced reported returns.
He suggested the changes were made to "prepare the ground" for privatisation as well as avoid public criticism that networks were reaping huge profits as customers faced higher power bills.
Dr Con Walker, an economist, said dividends and other payments from the networks had kept recent state budgets in surplus.
"Instead of selling these assets, the state would be better off borrowing at the current historically low interest rates and keeping businesses providing basic services which, in 2013-14, contributed $1.7 billion to the state budget," she said.
The Walkers have written extensively on electricity privatisation and have published a number of reports critical of the proposal.