Tak­ing con­trol of power

New re­port has en­ergy in its sights

Central and North Rural Weekly - - SPECIAL REPORT - KIRILI LAMB kirili.lamb@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

THERE are no sur­prises that high-en­ergy costs are af­fect­ing farm­ers but a newly re­leased Com­mon­wealth Bank Agri In­sights re­port shows how that is trans­lat­ing into a range of strate­gies and trends around on-farm re­new­ables and ef­fi­cien­cies.

The re­port, Ex­plor­ing en­ergy use and in­vest­ment in the Aus­tralian agribusi­ness sec­tor, re­vealed that 61 per cent of Aus­tralian farm­ers said ris­ing en­ergy costs had a mod­er­ate to sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on their farm op­er­a­tion and 76 per cent would like to in­vest in so­lar with bat­tery stor­age.

Com­mon­wealth Bank gen­eral man­ager of re­gional and agribusi­ness bank­ing for Queens­land Kerry McGowan said the re­port had con­firmed trends the bank had been wit­ness­ing in Queens­land in re­cent years.

“Queens­land is a big state, we cover about 1.8 mil­lion square kilo­me­tres, so you do get vari­abil­ity in it,” he said.

“The sec­tors that are higher in terms of en­ergy con­sump­tion were the ones we ex­pected to see more con­cerned about their abil­ity to con­trol en­ergy costs and also look to­wards ways that they might be able to mit­i­gate that by in­vest­ing in en­ergy-ef­fi­cient so­lu­tions.”

Na­tion­ally, the sec­tors demon­strat­ing the high­est num­ber of pro­duc­ers re­port­ing mod­er­ate to sig­nif­i­cant im­pacts from ris­ing en­ergy costs were sugar cane

(54 per cent), fol­lowed by dairy and cot­ton.

So­lar with bat­tery was con­sis­tently the favoured op­tion for in­vest­ment to­wards mit­i­gat­ing en­ergy costs, with those three most im­pacted agri-busi­ness sec­tors also in­di­cat­ing a strong in­ter­est in mod­i­fy­ing equip­ment to in­crease en­ergy ef­fi­ciency.

“Queens­land pro­duc­ers un­der­stand that in­vest­ing in en­ergy-ef­fi­cient so­lu­tions is an in­vest­ment for the fu­ture,” Mr McGowan said.

“We’re see­ing farm­ers up­grade their trac­tors and ma­chines to be more en­ergy ef­fi­cient. It’s a topic that is on the state’s mind.”

Mr McGowan said there had been a trend over re­cent years to­wards ru­ral pro­duc­ers seek­ing fi­nance to­wards re­new­able en­ergy equip­ment.

“In Queens­land we are see­ing some fan­tas­tic growth through our en­ergy-ef­fi­cient loans, which we’ve of­fered for some time,” he said.

“We had an ar­range­ment with the Clean En­ergy Corporation, where they sub­sidised it, and that’s now ceased but we’ve con­tin­ued the fund­ing ar­range­ments and we are sub­si­dis­ing those loans in­ter­nally – so we’ve had great up­take.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing to see such a strong lean to­wards in­vest­ment in so­lar with bat­tery back-up.

“In the field, we’ve seen much more of a fo­cus on en­ergy-ef­fi­cient equip­ment, so this new re­search of­fers some good in­sight into fu­ture di­rec­tions and plans.”

He said this in­ter­est had been a sur­prise in­sight, be­cause in the past there had been some re­luc­tance around bat­tery set-ups be­cause of cost and ef­fi­ciency is­sues.

“We are see­ing cu­rios­ity around those types of tech­nolo­gies be­com­ing more and more ev­i­dent,” he said.

“Our re­search found that farm­ers in Queens­land are very in­ter­ested in look­ing at new en­ergy re­sources but as yet the ac­tion on this in­ter­est has not been sig­nif­i­cant.

“While it’s trou­bling to see the im­pact en­ergy costs are hav­ing on our pro­duc­ers, it’s en­cour­ag­ing that they are con­sid­er­ing al­ter­na­tive mea­sures.”

The re­port re­vealed that 81 per cent of ru­ral pro­duc­ers na­tion­ally were more con­cerned by the cost of en­ergy than by re­li­a­bil­ity.

Con­sid­ered by sec­tor, sugar again re­sponded strongly in this area at 93 per cent, closely fol­lowed by dairy and hor­ti­cul­ture.

Mr McGowan pointed out that two-thirds of Queens­land re­spon­ders in the sur­vey had in­di­cated a lack of con­trol over en­ergy costs but there was a trend to­wards coun­ter­ing this.

“Through en­ergy-ef­fi­cient loan prod­ucts we’ve seen a trend of peo­ple look­ing at more ef­fi­cient ma­chin­ery and more ef­fi­cient ways of do­ing things, so I think peo­ple are think­ing about the prob­lem more broadly and not just a more ef­fi­cient trac­tor.”

Mr McGowan said while the bank had not yet seen ap­proaches from farmer groups seek­ing to cre­ate shared re­new­able en­ergy hubs, it had been con­vers­ing with clients on po­ten­tial to share farm as­sets more broadly.

“There is an in­ter­est to share farm as­sets,” he said.

“We took the op­por­tu­nity at Beef Aus­tralia to talk to a lot of our farm­ing clients around that con­cept of shared as­sets and there was some in­ter­est.

“I think that could be a thing for the fu­ture to get more ef­fi­cient use of as­sets across op­er­a­tions.”

❝ It’s in­ter­est­ing to see such a strong lean to­wards in­vest­ment in so­lar with bat­tery back-up. — Kerry McGowan

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