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Electricity prices could end irrigation for growers

DRY: Irrigators are warning pumps will be switched off unless electricity prices fall.
DRY: Irrigators are warning pumps will be switched off unless electricity prices fall. Simon Young

IRRIGATORS' pumps in the Bundaberg region will start to be switched off in two or three years if the State Government does not cut electricity prices, a cane grower has warned.

And that will have huge implications for productivity and employment in the region.

For months irrigators in the Bundaberg region have been running a campaign to get the price of the electricity they use to be cut, but without success.

Now irrigators have asked the State Government to support a voluntary trial of cheaper prices over three years to gauge the effect.

Bundaberg Regional Irrigators Group (BRIG) manager Dale Holliss said he welcomed allegations by Energex employee Cally Wilson that she was forced to manipulate data to reach targeted weighted average cost of capital, which is used to set revenues and household electric power bills.

Mr Holliss said while the allegations were not new, it was pleasing someone from within a network company had "lifted the lid on how they manipulated the rules to maximise revenue without any regard to the impact on consumers".

He said the current price determination process was very one sided and extremely damaging for the economy.

"Nearly all the investment risk is transferred to the consumer but the network owners are rewarded handsomely nevertheless," he said.

"Given that consumers have endured increases well above CPI in the last seven years, there now needs to be a period of price cuts."

Mr Holliss said BRIG had asked Ergon Energy and the government to support a voluntary trial over three years during which time irrigators would have access to a tariff that was 33% less than the 2013/14 regulated prices.

Cane grower Dean Cayley said unless prices dropped, there would be no irrigated crops in two or three years.

"We'll go back to dryland farming," he said.



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