MELBOURNE, May 24 (Reuters) - Australia's biggest power distributors on Wednesday won a court fight that could earn them close to A$3 billion ($2.2 billion) more in revenue over five years, boosting the prospects of recently privatised Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy.
In a decision that will stoke concern over soaring power and gas bills, the Federal Court ruled against a push by the country's energy regulator to force electricity networks in the state of New South Wales and the nation's capital Canberra to cut their charges over the five years to 2019.
"This decision is disappointing for New South Wales and ACT (Australian Capital Territory) electricity and gas customers overall. It may also have implications for customers in other states," Australian Energy Regulator (AER) Chair Paula Conboy said in a statement.
The federal government, under pressure from manufacturers and households facing rocketing gas prices which have also driven up power prices, also criticised the decision.
"Network businesses only appeal against the decision of the AER if they want to slug consumers more," Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said in a statement.
Network operators said it was too early to say what the full impact of Wednesday's decision would be.
The AER had proposed allowing four major energy networks to earn total revenue of A$14.2 billion over five years, or about a third less than the companies had sought, based on a view that they needed to cut their operating costs.
Endeavour Energy, which was sold for A$7.6 billion to a consortium led by Macquarie Group this month, said its average network charges for households and small businesses would fall by around 4.5 percent in real terms from July 1, and the court's decision would not change that.
"We remain committed to keeping downward pressure on network charges, while delivering the safe and reliable electricity supply expected by customers," Endeavour's acting chief executive Rod Howard said in a statement.
$1 = 1.3434 Australian dollars Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Joseph Radford