June 7, 2013

How to reduce electricity bills

I'm sick to death of people banging on about the cost of electricity here. It is always top of the agenda in the cost-of-living debate. I would be less cross if that debate ever included even the smallest reference to the environmental impact of high energy usage, but it doesn't. Complaints singularly focus on Australian pockets with ne'er a mention of carbon footprints.

Electricity price increases have just been announced in Queensland – as much as 22.6 per cent for some households. Premier Campbell Newman had promised a $100 electricity rebate, but his government was not able to balance the books in quite the way they'd planned, so an increase was, they suggest, unavoidable. The style of the State Government is to blame others for their own inability to deliver, but unfortunately this time they couldn't agree among themselves who the culprit should be.

Treasurer Tim Nicholls blamed the cost of maintaining the network infrastructure; Energy Minister Mark McArdle blamed the Federal Government's carbon pricing scheme*. Collectively they blame anyone who's incentivized or subsidised solar power uptake: the Federal Government's rebates, incentives and subsidies to facilitate the installation of solar panels; the former State Government for setting a solar feed-in tariff** that the current government has to honour; and, by default, anyone installing solar power.

The Queensland Government owns the transmission and distribution sectors of the electricity industry. It could, if it wanted to, tell network operators to write off infrastructure spend to keep costs down, or to lower their profit margins.

You might have expected them to consult the (independent) Australian Solar Council when appraising the costs of electricity, since the solar feed-in tariff is subsidised by all electricity users, but they did not, according to CEO John Grimes.

Governments' only way of interesting the majority of Australians in going green is the carrot of cheaper electricity: saving the planet appears to be a side issue. I doubt Dennis (top) is thinking too much about reducing carbon emissions.

In this, the sunniest continent on earth, there is a reluctance to embrace renewables that is truly staggering; to the extent that those Queenslanders who over the last few years have saved and invested heavily in a low-carbon energy future are now being demonised in order to absolve a government that is still wedded firmly to fossil-fuel resource development and power generation.

The most straightforward way of cutting power bills is to use less energy. Australians have ample scope to do this: Australia is gadget land, after all. Lifestyle choices are going to be compromised in the very near future by society's need to curb energy consumption and hence carbon emissions. Then we will be forced to do this by governments: we should be doing it now, responsibly and willingly. Get used to the idea. Here are some suggestions.

• Hang your wet washing on a clothes airer on the balcony or in the yard. If you're in Queensland, it'll dry more quickly most days than in your power-hungry dryer in the laundry room.
• If it's chilly while you're having a barbie, fling on a sweater or a jacket rather than using outdoor heating. It's not a constitutional right that you should be able to do everything in all seasons and weathers dressed only in T-shirt, shorts and thongs.
• Sweep leaves up rather than blowing them to another part of the driveway/garden.
• Trim the hedge using a pair of manual shears or hedge clippers.
• Trim the lawn edges with a pair of long-handled shears or a half-moon edging tool.
• Mow the lawn using a manual hand push mower. You'll get fit at the same time.
• You don't need a high-pressure water hose to clean your front steps. Use a brush and a bucket of water.
• Tell the body corporate that you don't need the pavement outside steam-cleaned; that you can walk through the lobby for five seconds without it being kept at arctic temperatures.
• Don't automatically reach for the air con control if you're too warm. Open the windows back and front so you get a through breeze.

Listen to the wind, man, rather than the thrum of machines.

* carbon pricing appears to have successfully helped to reduce electricity consumption: http://www.businessspectator.com.au/article/2013/6/5/energy-markets/no-sign-end-falling-electricity-demand?utm_source=exact&utm_medium=email&utm_content=
** a premium rate paid for electricity fed back into the mains grid 



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