Farmers participating in our tariff research project are telling the project team how they work with electricity tariffs to keep costs down. The names have been changed for anonymity.
Jason, a Burdekin Cane farmer is subscribed to Ergon’s Tariff 34 (small business controlled load) on his VSD water pumps, which gives him a cheap per kWh running cost. This choice of tariff normally wouldn’t be a viable option for water pumps, as controlled load means the electricity networks can cut power to the meter at their discretion, in return for a lower per kWh rate. But Jason has invested in smart technology to automate the water pumps which allow the pumps to automatically re-start following a controlled load power cut. The VSD pumps represent an advantage for those on demand-based tariffs too, because they can start up more slowly, avoiding the large instantaneous demand-spike upon startups that are familiar to regular (non-VSD) pumps.
Darren, growing cotton in south-west Queensland cotton grower’s southwest, utilises uses flood irrigation on his cotton and runs large capacity pumps to pull water from the river within his water licence and to transfer water between storages on his property. He recently experienced a situation where a meter running with one or more of his pumps exceeded 100MWh consumption in a year. This triggered a change in his position status to a L“large customer” which meant an automatic switch from a choice of Small Business tariffs to a choice of Large Business tariffs, for customers who use more than 100MWh per year. In Darren’s this case, Darren he was moved from Tariff 62 (irrigation tariff) to Tariff 44 (large business), which resulted in a substantially increased supply charge and loss of the solar feed-in tariff he had been receiving, from which he had previous earned approximately $20,000 per year. Possible solutions were identified. The farm has considered a number of options, such as to reduce power below the threshold, or installing a second electricity meter connection close by with the pumps able to be switched to enable loads to be split across the two, such that if consumption was approaching 100MWh, it could be switched to the second meter, which would to allow him Darren to retain his the Small Business tariffs.
Marie‘s family farm in NSW utilises farms 9,500ha in total for a range of crops and grazing. Irrigation includes pivots, flood with, bankless channels, sprinklers and stock water supplied from two large capacity bore pumps and two river pumps. Marie utilises a third-party electricity management service to which they pay a fixed fee and the company finds or negotiates the best tariffs based on their understanding of the business, including analysis of power quality indicators such as power factor.
They look at power quality stuff, they look at our bill and have access to our meter and monthly they’ll check that everything is correct and check we’re not being overcharged.
Marie is happy to outsource this service due to limited time to do the shopping around and calculations herself, happy with the money saved through the company’s choice of tariffs for them. Marie also participates in a local growers initiative supported by Cotton Australia which meets every 2-3 months to discuss a better way of charging tariffs for people with peaky demand.
A couple of Flood irrigators that have spoken to the team feel at a disadvantage by time-of-use and demand-based tariffs. Typically high volume pumps are used to harvest water when a river is in flood. During this time there is no adaptability in farmers’ demand, where pumps can sometimes be run continuously during a flood event, irrespective of peak demand tariffs.
The “peaky” nature of this demand makes solar a less viable option, as the electricity profile is made up of short but substantial peaks of use, followed by very little use at other times.
This situation also results in supply charges paid throughout the year to a meter which may only be called upon for 4-5 days per year. Equally, controlled load tariffs are also unsuitable because you may be turned off at any time during a pumping event and not all pumps will re-start automatically (and they are not available in all places).
Farmers recognised however, that if a river is in flood, then many farmers in the district will be pumping simultaneously, which may threaten to outstrip network capacity. As a result of high supply charges, Darren mentioned anecdotally that he knew many farmers in the local region opting to run electric pumps with diesel generators instead. He acknowledged this may soon become more cost effective for his farm if daily supply charges increased further, but was unattractive to him from an environmental standpoint.
The situation for high-flow water harvesting irrigators was described by Neil, an irrigated cropper and cattle farmer as:
“There is no suitable tariff that allows you to get the most out of your water licence.”, Neil, irrigated cropper and cattle farmer.
Tell us your story
If you would like to tell us your tariff story, Expressions expressions of interest are being sought from Queensland and New South Wales farmers to participate in the project to better understand how electricity tariffs for agricultural operations are considered and chosen.
Participating farmers will undertake a confidential 30-minute phone or Zoom interview with researchers from the University of Queensland and receive a $40 gift card. In addition, those interviewed will be participating in the draw to win one of two $500 discounts off their energy bills offered by the project.
The questions will focus on electricity tariffs, options to change them, energy consumption and generation systems. The results will be used to assist in developing tariffs and producing materials to assist farmers with tariff choice.
Interested farmers can complete the short on-line Expression of Interest form and upload a power bill, and a member of the QFF Energy Savers team will be in touch.