THE $2.5 billion unfunded promise of a clean coal electricity generating station in North Queensland might be better replaced by a more reliable source outside government control and price shocks.
Only 40 years ago, kerosine fridges and Lister generators were standard power sources in the bush.
In the 1970s, the state government extended lines out to almost all Queensland — paying for it out of recurrent spending then. Tricky accountants in the government, assisted by the corrupted Queensland Competition regulator, have ensured the electricity consumers have paid for those lines now three times over.
The trick is to revalue the power lines to current construction costs, and then charge on the basis that a 40-year-old already-paid-for line has to be paid for, again, at current prices. They do the same with dams, which is the major driver of rising water prices. This is why senior public servants need to be paid such high salaries.
Some of those lines actually need replacing, as is known by irrigators and people in the bush who suffer regular brown-outs. But since the money has been collected by outrageously high charges, but then paid at a billion a year into the state Treasury for other purposes, it is not available to upgrade those lines — except with further huge hikes in charges.
So, maybe the answer is for rural people to form clusters. The wild dog clusters have been wildly successful getting neighbours together, putting in money and labour with some government subsidy to solve a problem with a solution designed at the local level and much cheaper than government would ever have done it.
So, what if rural people formed electricity clusters. It’s hardly new, given many rural towns used to have their own electricity companies a century ago, and the system is widely used in rural and remote USA.
Let’s say all the properties down one line put in an array of solar, wind and back-up diesel generators or with battery back-up. A bulk deal could pull-down supply and erection costs considerably, and allow sharing between neighbours who have demands at different times.
We looked at four farms with irrigation, five houses, sheds, and some seasonal processing — and severe brown-out issues.
Ergon says the line upgrade is ‘millions’ and many years away. Thanks for the ten per cent electricity price rise we just got.
So, we got a quote. For a million we get enough solar in each house and shed per fortnight for the basics, plus a wind tower with batteries for the night and heavy grunt irrigation, plus all the wiring-up and electronic controls between the farms.
It appears the payback period is about eight years. Could be 12 if we go to the worse case power use and heaviest duty back-up.
At least we’d own and control it.
And, if we and others did this, the government would not need a $2.5 billion power station, or to upgrade our local power line.
If they could direct a little of their savings towards kick-starting our power cluster, we would get started.
But given the interest of the alternative electricity companies, I have no doubt some of these electricity clusters will be funded through the suppliers soon, especially as the equipment and battery costs keep falling.
Power clusters may be the way forward.