As power companies and the Federal Government try to find solutions to high power prices three central Victorians try to find their own solutions. By: Larissa Romensky
Having to stump up cash
Despite installing solar panels, Rochester dairy farmer Tom Acocks is spending $2,000 a month more on his electricity bills than he was last year.
In the past 12 months, he has spent close to $150,000 on electricity.
Milking 850 cows, two to three times-a-day and farming 1,400 hectares meant that the upgraded chilling system and an overhead pressurised irrigation system were the biggest consumers of energy.
So, 18 months ago the farmer installed a 50-killowatt system of solar panels for about $85,000.
While he said they are generating a “certain amount” of power, about $1,800 per month worth of electricity, his bills continue to “climb” month by month.
“We’re consuming 90 per cent of that, so were not actually putting very little back into the grid,” Mr Alcocks said.
He attributes the rising costs to the increase in the wholesale power prices which he said had gone up about 50 per cent over three years.
“The wholesale power price in April was just insane and we got slugged with that,” Mr Acocks said.
While the cost of the leased solar panel system would be paid for in five years’ time the frustrated dairy farmer said there was an “immediate struggle” that needed to be addressed.
“I just have a real gripe with farmers and businesses in general having to stump up with their own cash to put these systems in to alleviate an essential service that the government should be providing at a reasonable rate,” Mr Acocks said.
Ideally, he said there needs to be not only a long-term power strategy there also needs to be a short-term plan for farmers to help them invest in renewable systems at a commercial level.
“We can’t afford that amount of capital or tying up that amount of capital into that system without some assistance into working with either private enterprise or government in actually assisting in generating that electricity,” Mr Acocks said.
“First thing you do away with is meat”
Lesley Fisher said in the last year she dreaded the arrival of the electricity bill and described it as a stressful time.
“How big is it going to be?” Ms Fisher said.
This year Ms Fisher and her husband Peter’s electricity bill was almost double what it was the same time last year.
But, the two pensioners said they were luckier than most, as they had some “savings on hand”, which allowed them to receive a discount if they paid their bill prior to the due date.
“I always think about people who are worse off than us. ‘How about pensioners who are renting for instance?’,” Ms Fisher said.
Despite their savings, after the sale of their property in Western Australia prior to moving to Heathcote in central Victoria, they both said they have had to make significant changes to their already “moderate” lifestyle, with diet being the first.
“The first thing you do away with is meat,” Mr Fisher said.
“Mainly we’ve looked at going for different forms of protein rather than meat which is quite expensive at present.”
They are consuming more legumes and also list broccoli and oatmeal as being on their list along with cheaper forms of carbohydrates.
“Potatoes here are quite expensive so I use more rice and wholegrain wheat,” Mr Fisher said.
“I cook that up and boil it which is very good.”
“I get tuna when it’s on special and mix it with vegetables,” Ms Fisher said.
On top of a change of diet they also eat less.
“You have to, food is so expensive and because when the power goes up the food goes up as well,” Ms Fisher said.
“It’s always a bit of a stress trying to make sure that you don’t spend too much money.”
Downsizing the family home
Single mother and part-time worker Diana Lewicki from Bendigo said things were “pretty tight” at the moment.
“It’s shocking, I’m on such a tight budget, some essentials have to wait ages,” she said.
“It’s a bit embarrassing but I need a new bra desperately and I can’t afford it at the moment.”
Day cream and holidays are also luxuries she now goes without.
Whereas in previous years she took her youngest for a few days to the Grampians or Moama on the Murray, this year they are staying home.
Ms Lewicki blames the privatisation of utility companies.
“Before that the government had some sort of control over them, once they became private companies they could just keep bumping the prices up as much as they want, no one can say a thing,” she said.
With her work hours recently reduced, to help manage the bills Ms Lewicki is now on a fortnightly payment plan.
“It was hard enough when I was working full-time. It’s catastrophic now that they have reduced my hours which has only happened in the last five weeks,” she said.
“Because there is no way I can pay the bills outright or even a part of them and they just keep on going up and up and up.”
The six-bedroom brick home, which was once home to nine people, is now home to three people so Ms Lewicki plans to move to a smaller house to reduce her energy consumption.
Source: ABC Central Victoria