THE future of a thriving Sunshine Coast plant nursery is in jeopardy after a massive hike in its electricity bill.

Palmwood Tropicals owner Tim Biggers has calculated his annual power bill could jump by 570% from $12,000 to $74-80,000 after the business was shifted, without notice, on to a new tariff.

The first hint that the nursery had been moved on to the new tariff came when the electricity bill for July jumped to $7974, up nearly 75% on the same period last year, even though it had reduced its electricity use.

"We expected that with the carbon tax and electricity price increases that we'd be paying more, but nowhere have I heard anything about this," Mr Biggers said.

The Obi Obi nursery grows tropical plants and most of its electricity use relates to heating a solar house in winter. It had been on a General Supply TOU tariff but was re-classified as a large user and switched on to the L.V General Supply Demand tariff as of July 1.

The new tariff means that in September, when the nursery is heated for only three or four days, Mr Biggers could pay as much as he pays for heating it all through July, and in summer, when no heating is required, he could pay 60% of what he has to pay during winter.

"If we have a really cold day, it could snowball across the whole year," he said.

Mr Biggers was told there was no legal requirement for him to be notified of the tariff change under amendments to electricity regulations in June.

Seven days after getting his bill, he received a letter from AGL advising that the meter had been changed and his energy plan prices had been updated but it did not point out that the nursery was on a new tariff.

It took a month of to-ing and fro-ing between AGL and Energex before it was explained to him that he had been re-classified as a high user and placed on the new tariff.

Mr Biggers has contacted the Energy Ombudsman and the Australian Energy Regulator but has been told he has very little recourse.

He said his only hope of escaping the new tariff was to have the business re-classified. The business was only 1% over the 100 megawatts "large user" trigger, he said.

Mr Biggers said the nursery would not be sustainable if its annual electricity bill was as high as he had calculated.

Statements from AGL and Energex customer advocate Mike Swanston said the tariff could be reviewed if consumption was reduced over the next year.

Mr Swanston said Energex was aware of concerns being raised by the nursery operators and would make contact with them.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE

Businesses which use more than 100 megawatts of electricity are classified as "large users."

As a large user, Palmwood Tropicals was switched to the L.V General Supply Demand tariff as of July 1.

Under this tariff, there is a monthly fee of $525 and the monthly electricity charge on top of that is the highest of:

  • the maximum daily usage that month
  • 60% of the highest maximum demand in any of the previous 11 months
  • 75 kilowatts.

The tariff change means that Palmwood Tropicals' minimum monthly electricy charge of $40 for February will jump to $3286.



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