Queensland farmers battle “Ergon rip-off”

Kelvin Griffin stadning in his field on the concrete pads that will house his new solar array
Kelvin Griffin — family business, fighting back

State-owned energy companies in Australia are gouging their captive market – farmers and companies that depend on energy to make their profits – and employ tens of thousands of taxpayers..

Three long concrete strips in a Bundaberg cane field mark a personal blow by Queensland farmers in retaliation against State Government-owned utility Ergon Energy’s excessive power prices.

The three strips, which have cost around AUS$20,000 to lay, will provide the hard standing for a solar power system which will take the Griffin family’s 200-acre Bundaberg sugarcane property completely off the Queensland electricity grid.

“This is a direct response to the soaring power prices which have been crippling farmers like us for years now,” said Kelvin Griffin, who runs the farm with his wife Helen and adult children.

“If we used Ergon’s power for irrigation, if we could afford it, we would be putting at least $40,000 to $50,000 a year into this power giant’s pocket. We won’t, and can’t, do that. But we can take our custom away completely and go off-grid. From now on, our power money goes to pay off our solar system, and make us independent of this government-run giant which obviously does not want to listen to farmers and ordinary families who simply cannot afford their huge electricity costs.”

For the Griffins, it means that after battling flood, drought and now low sugar prices, they have to take on a $100,000 debt to pay for the system.

“This decision to take on this debt has been forced on the Griffin operation due to economic negligence by the Queensland Government. Why should people have to buy their own power infrastructure when our gold-plated network has already been funded by their taxpayer dollars”? said Dale Holliss of the Bundaberg Regional Irrigators Group (BRIG).

“The State Government has had the chance to reverse the impossibly high power prices imposed by its 100 per cent government-owned electricity utility, Ergon – rip-off prices which have soared for irrigators by 96pc since 2009,” he said.

In late October, State Energy Minister Mark Bailey said electricity price “surges” were over and praised the Government and Australian Electricity Regulator (AER) as offering “stable” power costs. But he did not accede to Queensland growers” demands to wind back prices.

“Extensive research has shown that reducing irrigators” power prices by 33pc would prove revenue-neutral to the State-owned Ergon operation simply because farmers could then start using its power to irrigate again,” Mr Hollis said.

CANEGROWERS Queensland delivered data and supporting information around the proposed 33pc cut to Ergon CEO Ian McLeod and the Queensland Competition Authority (QCA) in April 2014. No action was taken by the power giant and its regulator.

“By the Government agreeing to leave the prices at so-called stable levels, it is pushing the irrigators to tipping point over whether or not to install their own solar.

“Current power prices are ridiculous and for Mr Bailey to say we just have to get on with paying these costs for the foreseeable future is economically negligent both for a government with a huge deficit, and for individual farming operations.”

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