Australia has gone from having a competitive advantage in energy costs to being one of the most expensive countries in the world. The price of electricity has increased about 10 times the rate of inflation over the last 10 years for Queensland farmers. As a result, many irrigated and intensified farm businesses are losing their ability to compete globally, risking significant job losses and lower levels of production. Many regional customers face further bill increases when they are forced on to standard business demand-based tariffs. While the State Government last week extended the deadline for small and large customers in regional Queensland on transitional and obsolete tariffs to 30 June 2021, it does not include all Queensland farmers and businesses or buy enough time for those forced to change.
Despite 65 per cent of Queensland being drought declared and the high cost of electricity making many farming businesses unsustainable, the deadline extension only applies to customers on the Ergon network. This potentially excludes farmers and businesses operating in south east Queensland and unfairly disadvantages them because they are on the Energex network where tariffs are at the discretion of retailers and based on the network tariff options. Furthermore, the retail prices for tariffs under the 2020-25 regulatory period will not be known until May 2020. Coupled with limited to no usage data, this makes it impossible for farmers to make informed tariff selection decisions.
The current lack of clarity on what retail tariffs would be suitable for irrigation and other agricultural-specific operations post 1 July 2020, and the significant bill increases farmers may face moving from transitional tariffs to standard business demand-based tariffs is unacceptable. The Queensland Government must set out a clear path for affordable energy for intensive, semi-intensive and irrigated agriculture by lowering fixed and variable charges on all existing tariffs and introducing new tariffs, in particular a specific Food, Fibre and Manufacturing Tariff. Without a genuine transition program, farmers will be left in the dark.