GROWERS walked away empty handed from a Bundaberg meeting yesterday which hoped to secure a cut in irrigation electricity prices.
The proposal, backed by a petition, called for a 33 per cent price cut on T62, T65 and T66 irrigation tariffs which Canegrowers’ figures suggest would be revenue neutral to the Queensland government.
About 200 farmers and representatives from the cane, horticulture and beef industries gathered at the Brothers Leagues Club for the “Power Prices and Farming – Decision-making Forum” in order to hear from a panel on why Queensland’s electricity prices have risen 90pc over the past seven years.
While irrigators had hoped for a solid outcome, they were left with little more than promises the concerns would be relayed back through the Queensland parliament.
Representatives from Ergon Energy and the Queensland Competition Authority (QCA) did not commit to the proposed reduction, instead agreeing to have their organisations review the figures gathered by Canegrowers.
The solar rebate scheme, the carbon tax and other green power initiatives were largely blamed for the cumulative rise in power bills.
The panel included Ergon Energy chief executive Ian McLeod who said he’d been “going on” about tariff reform since 2008
“We are now getting traction on tariff reform and we are engaging with the irrigators and Canegrowers in the last couple of years talking about tariff reform and efficiency,” he said.
But he stopped short of signing off on the meeting’s intended demands.
“In terms of tariff reform itself and the 33pc, we are certainly committed to tariff reform, we are certainly committed to reforming business tariffs to drive off-peak use, to drive weekend use,” he said.
“We certainly need to be able to keep people competitive as much as possible, and we are certainly committed to working with you on ways of reducing energy costs.”
Mr McLeod repeatedly referred to Ergon Energy’s goal to get average network prices below inflation for the next five years from July 2015.
He said there were many influences on electricity usage and therefore pricing, with fluctuations such as droughts and cyclones being substantial factors.
It was of little comfort to growers present, many of whom voiced their opinions during the question session with some indicating their businesses would not survive until 2015.
“Can I say to you, I hear all those issues. I don’t want anybody going off their land, off their properties because they can’t afford to run them,” Mr McLeod said.
“We want to work together to try and find a solution.”
Mr McLeod’s comments were supported by Dr Malcolm Roberts, chair, Queensland Competition Authority (QCA).
“We are required by law to set prices that cover the actual costs of supply. That shouldn’t be a surprise for anybody in the room that if you’re not recovering the cost of producing the product then it is eventually not going to be reliable long term,” Dr Roberts said.
“The QCA is responsible for setting prices across the state. We can’t set prices to reflect individual circumstances.”
In a display of agricultural unity, representatives from the National Irrigators Council, Canegrowers, Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers, AgForce, Australian Sugar Milling Council, Bundaberg Regional Council and Bundaberg Sugar, publicly submitted statements in support of the price reduction.
Tom Chesson, CEO, National Irrigators Council said real change was needed at a policy level.
“Government policies at a State and federal level are artificially and unsustainably driving up energy prices,” Mr Chesson said.
“Governments have been capturing any savings that you guys have been making either on the grid or off the grid.
“Price increases are forcing farmers to turn off their pumps and that’s the key here- if you guys turn off your pumps and you don’t grow the food, you cannot process it down at the sugar mill, at our milk powder factories, at our cotton gins, at our canneries- you don’t grow it, we can’t process it. Jobs will be lost.”
“I don’t know how you put it any more simply than that.
“They’ve (the governments) have all said that power prices are too high yet they all seem to want to hide behind fig leaves.
“Who can actually fix your problem today - it’s the State government.”
The meeting was attended by Federal Member for Burnett Stephen Bennett who hosted the forum, and State Member for Burdekin, Rosemary Menkens.
In his opening address, Mr Bennett said the government acknowledged growers as price takers and fully supported the proposal.
While the exact wording of any resolutions or proposals is yet to be finalised, growers were told that exerting pressure on the State government was the best means of making a change.