Cane farmers go 100% solar to avoid Ergon charges

WATERING CANE: Industrial size sprinklers irrigate a cane farm on Goodwood Road. Photo: Max Fleet / NewsMail
WATERING CANE: Industrial size sprinklers irrigate a cane farm on Goodwood Road. Photo: Max Fleet / NewsMail Max Fleet

A BUNDABERG cane growing family has decided to go off Ergon Energy's electricity grid and go completely solar because of high electricity prices.

Three long concrete strips in a Bundaberg cane field mark the first personal, decisive blow by Queensland farmers in retaliation against State Government-owned utility Ergon Energy's excessive power prices.

The three strips, which have cost around $20,000 to lay, will provide the hard standing for a solar power system which will take the Griffin family's 80ha Bundaberg sugarcane property completely off the Queensland electricity grid.

"This is a direct response to the soaring power prices which have been crippling farmers like us for years now," said Kelvin Griffin, who runs the farm with his wife Helen and adult children.

"If we used Ergon's power for irrigation, if we could afford it, we would be putting at least $40,000 to $50,000 a year into this power giant's pocket.

"We won't, and can't, do that. But we can take our custom away completely and go off-grid.

"From now on, our power money goes to pay off our solar system, and make us independent of this government-run giant which obviously does not want to listen to farmers and ordinary families who simply cannot afford their huge electricity costs."

For the Griffin family, it means that after battling flood, drought and now with sugar prices hitting a six-year low, they have to take on a $100,000 debt to pay for the solar power system.

Bundaberg Regional Irrigators Group spokesman Dale Holliss said the decision to take on this debt had been forced on the Griffin operation due to economic negligence by the Queensland Government.

"Why should people have to buy their own power infrastructure when our gold-plated network has already been funded by their taxpayer dollars?" he said.

"The State Government has had the chance to reverse the impossibly high power prices imposed by its 100% government-owned electricity utility, Ergon - rip-off prices which have soared for irrigators by 96% since 2009."

The decision to go completely off-grid from Ergon was taken by the Griffin family after much heart-searching.

"We sat down and discussed the future of the farm and whether it would be here for our kids," said Jason Griffin, 33, who lives on the farm with wife Felicity and two daughters.

"We had to make a hard decision - $100,000 is a big debt to take on with the tough economic times - but we worked out we could have it paid off in six or seven years for around the same money as we are paying right now to Ergon, even without using our irrigation capabilities.

"By irrigating using solar, we also can increase our production back to the 7000 tonnes a year we used to get when we irrigated fully.

"If we could afford to irrigate using Ergon electricity, which would cost us at least $10,000 a quarter, we could have it paid off within two and a half years.

" We have to face facts that for around the price of buying a new 120-horsepower tractor, we can get our own solar and escape the ongoing pressures of government-run electricity."

Kelvin Griffin said the system they had chosen had a 25-year guarantee, which meant that once it was paid off the farming operation could enjoy decades of cost-free power.

"We're powering off the grid to power on," he said.

"For us, and many farmers, there is no choice.

"There are many farms which have been handed on for seven, eight generations and to walk away because the government is acting in a way that is economic madness for such a core industry is not acceptable."

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