08 August, 2017

Nathan Vass

Courtesy of the Townsville Bulletin

At a time when people are cutting back on food, heating, and air conditioning just to afford their electricity bills, it’s time to give the people of North Queensland a choice when it comes to who they buy their electricity from.

To subject North Queenslanders to the Ergon energy monopoly in the year 2017 is nonsensical and unjustifiable. Without competition, prices will continue to soar and people and business will continue to suffer.

The dire impacts of this monopoly became clear after the Australian Power Project posted on Facebook a few weeks ago asking how people were coping with new electricity price rises. It quickly turned into an outpouring of stories from North Queenslanders fed up with rising power bills.

The stories of power bill hardship I’ve read have had me scratching my head wondering, how did we as a nation with so many abundant natural resources get to this point?

For some, access to electricity has become a luxury.

What surprised me in the countless stories I’ve received from North Queenslanders is a deep dissatisfaction with state-owned Ergon Energy.

In the last Queensland state election asset sales were a large topic of debate.

The now Palaszczuk Labor Government in the lead up to that election claimed that if electricity assets were sold, everyone’s power prices would go through the roof.

But it now seems that in state-owned hands, Queensland Government owned electricity generators have been caught out driving the cost of wholesale electricity to be the most expensive in the National Energy market.

Those wholesale prices, now being passed on to households in North Queensland, are forecast to deliver $1.5 billion into the hands of the Palaszczuk Labor Government in the next twelve months.

Is it any wonder then that Labor MPs, and the recently stood-aside Energy Minister Mark Bailey, oppose competition to Ergon in the form of a new high efficiency low emission (HELE) power station for North Queensland?

The LNP’s announcement of a HELE power station for North Queensland is a sensible one — as are announcements regarding other forms of renewable generation to come online in the future.

The main message is that North Queenslanders want a choice and they want competition to help bring power prices down.

Assets can remain in the government’s hands to provide a level of comfort and security for the public, but they should also be subjected to competition to ensure hardworking families and businesses aren’t being rorted with no alternative choice to Ergon.

Large and small businesses — whether they’re big manufacturers or just your local butcher — depend on cheap and reliable electricity to keep their own prices down.

Without a new HELE power station, without competition, North Queensland will continue to be at the mercy of state-owned generators and Ergon whose priorities lie in maximising profits for the State Government rather than delivering the lowest power prices for families and businesses.

With just another Queensland state election on the horizon, voters in North Queensland won’t just be deciding who will be in power, but what price they’ll be paying for their power.

Nathan Vass is CEO of the Australian Power Project, a leading industry advocacy group calling for a rational and balanced approach to national energy policy that keeps prices down and protects jobs and investment.