Reliable, secure and affordable electricity is one of those things that the last few generations of Australians have largely taken for granted.
Not so in Australia’s so-called ‘wind power capital’, South Australia. These days, Croweaters count their blessings if power is delivered at all and count their pennies every time they’re hit with a power bill that is magnitudes greater than the last.
With a power supply to rival Equatorial Africa and retail prices more than double their neighbouring states, South Australians are at wits end. The first article from The Australian deals with the crashing economic impact that South Australia’s rocketing power prices are having on business, while the second details the kind of DIY spirit that’s needed in a State obsessed with its attempt to run on sunshine and breezes.
Supermarket staff cut to absorb $2.5m rise in power costs
10 February 2017
One of South Australia’s largest employers is cutting staff to absorb a $2.4 million, 50 per cent rise in electricity costs this year, as it met on the crisis with South Australian Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis yesterday.
Drakes Supermarkets owner Roger Drake, who operates 60 stores with 6000 workers as an independent grocery retailer in South Australia and Queensland, said he was slicing his labour budget to balance ballooning power costs while losing ground to Woolworths and Coles, which could amortise power costs across national operations.
“We’re cutting people, which is tragic, but we can’t get any more margin,’’ he said. “We are in a disadvantage to be able to compete with the major players … once the independent disappears in South Australia, it will be the end of competition as we know it.”
The $1 billion group, which has diesel generators at every store to counter failures, asked 11 power retailers in December to tender for supply but only three made an offer. It chose a one-year contract with Origin, resulting in its annual power bill rising from $5m to an expected $7m this year.
Mr Drake discounted an offer by Mr Koutsantonis to subsidise solar panels on Drakes stores because the company did not own every site. The only route to cheaper power was for the state government to take control of generation assets, he said.
Mr Koutsantonis told radio station FIVEaa the government was the state’s largest power customer and had gone to tender for a new supplier offering a 10-year contract to underpin a new competitor. “We informed AGL and Origin they’re not eligible to apply for this tender (which closed on January 6) … we want to make sure we get new generation … to compete with the monopolies that are behaving quite appallingly,” he said.
He blamed high gas prices with thermal generation “sitting idle” in the state as well as the “cartel” behaviour of major electricity retailers underpinning the highest power prices in Australia.
8 February 2017, was another of those days in SA when portable generators ceased to be an extravagance designed to light up a campsite in the bush and became a suburban ‘must-have’, essential to keep a few lights on and perishables from perishing.
In South Australia, this summer’s must-have accessory: a generator
10 February 2017
Danny and Kelly Salamon bought a camp generator two years ago thinking it would power their lights for short camping holidays with their daughters.
But the couple, from Pennington in Adelaide’s northwest, have been relying on the 6 kilowatt generator to power their house during major blackouts.
The Salamons’ generator was on standby during Wednesday night’s forced load-shedding and again last night they were smack in the middle of the western suburbs earmarked by SA Power Networks for forced blackouts, if necessary.
Load-shedding, ordered by the Australian Energy Market Operator to protect the South Australian network, cut power to 90,000 households at 6.33pm on Wednesday — dinner time, when the mercury was still about 40C.
“It’s always a possibility that we’ll have more blackouts. If people are concerned they should consider getting (a generator) so as not to spoil their food, and you can get some cheap ones,” Mr Salamon said.
He blamed the state government and the AEMO for Wednesday’s blackout. “It’s a heat issue, but it’s someone’s fault: it’s both, the state and the regulator.”
With young daughters Aleisha, 7, and Mikayla, 9, Mr Salamon said the $600 generator was a worthwhile investment in the family’s safety.
During the September blackout, when violent storms tripped wind farms and the Victorian interconnector shut down, completely cutting power to South Australia, Mr Salamon used the generator for six hours to power the television, lights, cooktop and shower.
He is now careful to ensure there is always petrol in reserve for emergencies. “If we didn’t have the kids I wouldn’t have worried about it, but it was for their sake and we could have a shower and watch TV without sending them to bed at 5pm,” Mr Salamon said.
Wednesday’s load shedding happened when thousands of people were cooking dinner or looking for takeaways. Fulham Chicken Cave owner George Stamos had to turn away dozens of customers as power into his store dwindled after 4pm.
“We’re losing money and it’s not good enough,” Mr Stamos said. “I think it’s the state’s fault for selling off utilities. We need to live, we need to work, and why should we be paying extravagant amounts for electricity? Electricity companies should just cover costs instead of making a profit.”
Thousands of people flooded SA Power Networks’ Facebook page and other social media to voice their anger, questioning load shedding at one of the hottest times of the day. Many called for a halt to paying electricity bills, arguing they should not have to pay the nation’s highest prices if networks could not guarantee reliable power.