According to the Australian Energy Regulator, there was an 82 per cent increase in the number of small businesses disconnected by Ergon Retail in the 2016-17 financial year. Some farmers have been on the receiving end of electricity cost increases of more than 200 per cent in 10 years, while CPI has increased by just 24 per cent over the same period. And based on current Queensland Government policy and tariff offerings, more is to come when tariffs specifically designed to meet the needs of irrigation and other farming activities are phased out by 30 June 2020. With those farming businesses already struggling to cope with unsustainable electricity price increases and lagging productivity, it comes as no surprise that farmers are looking to alternative energy solutions.
Recent figures from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) show a progressive commitment among Australian farmers to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. In the last three years, farmers have taken up loan incentives offered by the CEFC, spending over $100 million on 417 on grid and 20 off grid solar power projects, more than any other sector. These projects were also on average larger than other sectors, with loans almost seven times the average at over $250,000. Moreover, farmers took additional loans with the CEFC to the value of $100 million during this time, to improve the energy efficiency of farm buildings and production systems. In reality, the extent of agricultural investment will be many times higher as these figures do not include the projects where farmers have purchased renewable or energy efficiency technologies outright or sought funding elsewhere.
The agriculture sector is continuing to make significant investments in clean energy to decarbonise the economy. This is expected to continue in Queensland with the extension of the state government funded and Queensland Farmers’ Federation led Energy Savers Program. With electricity price uncertainty in the future, options are available for farmers interested in Financing Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Australian farmers are among the cleanest and greenest in the world and should be congratulated for their commitment to sustainable and productive farming.