Growers call for parties to commit to lower power prices

ELECTRICITY costs remain one of the hot topics ahead of the election later this month - especially for Fraser Coast canegrowers.

Canegrowers chief executive Dan Galligan has called on all parties to commit to a suite of agricultural electricity tariffs capped at 16c/kWh.

It comes after confirmation from the Queensland Competition Authority that a new control load tariff, called T34, will be available as a primary tariff to farmers from November 1.

Mr Galligan said the announcement was a victory for irrigators and comes on the back of years of lobbying from Canegrowers and other farming groups.

But he said more work was needed to fix all the issues in the power pricing system.

"I urge growers to carefully assess if T34 is right for them to ensure their business can benefit from a lower price for power but also not be affected by the risk of service delivery interruptions," he said.

"Canegrowers is calling for the parties campaigning in the Queensland state election to commit to a suite of agricultural electricity tariffs capped at 16c/kWh.

"T34 is close to that mark with a usage charge of 17.295 c/kWh and a daily fixed change of $1.18081 per day (both ex-GST)."

Wide Bay grower Mark Pressler, who was part of a joint trial of the control load tariff run by Canegrowers and Energy Queensland, said he was impressed.

"The tariff delivered some worthwhile cost savings for my business and the service interruptions were manageable," he said.

"I'm looking forward to Ergon finalising its plan to send us text notifications so we know ahead of time when the power might be cut."

While T34 was a positive step, Mr Galligan said it was not the solution to all of the problems with electricity pricing and Canegrowers would continue to campaign for an end to network gold plating practices and profit gouging by governments.

"Significantly more change is still needed to the electricity pricing system and we are calling on the Labor and Liberal National parties to commit to more action to improve affordability for farmers after the October 31 election," Mr Galligan said.

"Successive Queensland Governments have used the electricity network as a cash cow and a form of farm business taxation by pulling out dividends worth up to $1.5 billion each year.

"Power companies have also been rewarded for overcapitalising on the network, what's known as gold-plating.

"The network charge is about half of a power bill so when this goes up, profit margin of irrigators gets squeezed.

"Both of these systemic issues are yet to be addressed but if they are, and we see significant price cuts for irrigators across the board, production on farms will increase."

The Canegrowers' state election 8-point plan lists the high costs of electricity and water as one of the obstacles holding the Queensland sugarcane industry back from realising its full potential.

Energy Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said he welcomed Canegrowers' support for the State Government's efforts on power prices.

"The QCA has developed these latest tariff options at the government's request, and publicly-owned Ergon has been trialling a special farmers' tariff, fuelled by renewable energy," he said.

"At the same time, the government has also invested millions to assist farmers to better understand and manage their energy use.

"An incoming Palaszczuk Labor Government will continue to work with our food and fibre producers, because agricultural is one of the traditional strengths that underpins our strategy for economic recovery.

"Queensland has the lowest average electricity prices on the eastern seaboard and regional power bills have fallen for three years in a row.

"Labor has only been able to achieve those lowest average power prices because we own our energy assets.

"I remind Queensland's rural producers that power prices rose 43 per cent under the LNP and they planned to sell those energy assets, and will again if given the chance."

But the LNP's Shadow Agriculture Minister Tony Perrett accused the government of "gouging" farmers with unsustainably high electricity prices, which had driven down production and cost local jobs, he said.

"The LNP understands that while electricity prices remain too high farmers switch off their pumps, crops wither in the sun and rural and regional Queensland suffer as a result," Mr Perrett said.

"The LNP wants to boost agricultural production in Queensland so we will reduce the cost of critical inputs like water and electricity.

"We will also remove bad regulations that hamper profitability, productivity and ultimately jobs throughout the entire agricultural supply chain.

"Deb Frecklington has already announced that an LNP Government will build the drought-busting New Bradfield Scheme, back new dam projects across Queensland and reduce the price of water for SunWater irrigators by almost 20%, ensuring it is affordable for farmers to grow more local food and fibre.

"Through these policies the LNP aims to double the value of agricultural production by 2035, from $18 billion to $30 billion and then doubling it again to $60 billion by 2045."