Electricity costs cripple Bathurst businesses

WHEN winter descends on Bathurst in NSW’s chilly Central West, local store owners rug up in their woollies and hope they can survive not just the cold, but taking a hit from their electricity bills.

“Leading up to Christmas this year we had some 24 retailers and smaller businesses close down in Bathurst and part of the reason was the huge costs in electricity,’’ small business owner and business coach Steve Semmens said.

Mr Semmens shared his insights on how businesses are doing it tough at the coalface, and how many fear turning on the electricity.

“I go into some of the retailers in the middle of winter and you see them sitting there in their coats, and their scarves and their hats because they can’t afford to even warm their own shops,’’ he told the Business Council’s Strong Australia community event in Bathurst in May.

It is, he said, “a huge problem’’.

Bathurst Business Chamber president Angus Edwards said electricity bills in parts of regional Australia were much higher than in the major cities.

That is one of the issues all businesses are facing, particularly manufacturing. The fact is we pay more for electricity here than we do in Sydney,’’ he said.

Bathurst is brimming with opportunities, but when it comes to attracting new businesses the cost of power can be a turnoff to relocating to the regions.

“It is a hurdle to be able to attract business to regional areas,’’ Mr Edwards said. “There are so many great reasons to come here but that’s a real barrier for certain types of businesses.’’

Simon Hickey, the chief executive of Greencross which operates under the Petbarn brand in Australia, said he believed the “differences between major cities and the regions’’ on power prices was a “drawback’’.

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Business Council, urged locals to be part of the voice and join the Strong Australia Network to help raise the issue of electricity prices.

“We have to as a community keep pushing. We want action on this,’’ she said, but added it couldn’t be the type of action that put energy companies off investing in the practical steps needed to help bring down energy prices.

Ms Westacott said action was needed to reduce carbon emissions through innovation, achieve affordability through supply, investment and better access, and achieve reliability through the right mix of energy sources.

The Business Council’s to do list to lower energy bills and deliver reliable, affordable and secure energy is:

  • Deliver and stick to a long-term national energy policy.
  • Give businesses the confidence to invest in existing and new power generation supplies. This is the best way to put downward pressure on wholesale electricity prices.
  • Scrap unnecessary subsidies for taxpayer funded green schemes that could shave $30 a year off electricity bills in some states.
  • Give consumers a common point of comparison for all energy offers and discounts by issuing a ‘reference bill’. This will make it easier to compare offers from electricity retailers.
  • Increase the supply of energy by introducing an investment allowance (which would act as a tax break) to encourage power generators to increase the amount of power they produce, and encourage investments in new supply.
  • Increase access to gas supplies for Aussie consumers and export markets by lifting unscientific bans on gas developments.