Broken promises and deception distinguish the recent Queensland history of state electricity provision.

Ever since Premier Peter Beattie laughingly declared the power industry’s retail deregulation would actually lower prices, only to subsequently announce in 2007 a 11.7% electricity price hike, assurances to consumers continually ring hollow. From July this year prices will increase another 13.63% on top of last year’s 5%. Yet according to the 2007-2008 Energex annual report, the Queensland power supplier returned a record dividend of $946.9 million for the 2008 financial year to the government; while its profit rose 15% from $122.8 million to $140.8 million.

Government coffers are filled while consumers are asked to pay their share to sustain the future viability of their supply — yet Energex says it can’t afford to put proposed controversial high capacity power lines underground, because the overhead option is so much cheaper. Originally Energex was planning to install a 13km section of 110,000 volt overhead power lines stretching from Mudgeeraba to a sub-station next to the new desalination plant at Tugun right next to Coolangatta airport with construction originally planned to start in January.

That’s before the public got wind of the proposal and sought and gained consultation with Energex as to its plans and the reason for erecting such a high capacity load to the southern end of the coast.

Retired Energex engineer Neville Richardson used to help plan the future power needs of the southern end of the Coast, now he is the spokesman for a resident’s action sub-group “Stop the overhead powerlines” (STOP), under the wing of the Coast’s major ecology lobby Gekko. Richardson told Crikey that during consultations, Gecko and STOP had been lied to by Energex, especially when it came to denying the new lines would supply power into New South Wales.

“Despite repeated denials by Energex staff at Community Reference Group meetings, it is evident that Energex has planned all along to supply power to the Cobaki Lakes development in the Tweed,” Richardson said.

“It will also allow them to become the direct supplier to the Tweed Shire. He said it was clear to S.T.O.P that the communities from Mudgeeraba to Tugun will suffer the terrible impact of overhead powerlines to cater for the needs of up to 13,000 residents in this new development.”

“Yet the proposed overhead route passes in close proximity to several schools, Tugun’s John Flynn Hospital, a major shopping centre at Elanora and thousands of homes, and would destroy natural habitats.”

The three Gold Coast seats affected by this are the ALP held seats of Mudgeeraba (2.7) and the increasingly shaky Christine Smith’s Burleigh, despite her seemingly safe margin (8.8%). The third, the LNP held seat of Currumbin is under no threat from Labor.

Yesterday the party’s Shadow Energy Minister Jeff Seeney did his party’s chances no harm when he assured a Palm Beach protest; that in line with the Gold Coast City Council also firmly supporting an underground option; the LNP estimated it would cost an additional $27 million to underground all the most sensitive or at risk sections.

But today either a government or Energex anonymous source told the Gold Coast Bulletin, the LNP promised would be as high as an extra $90 million. But Richardson estimated putting the whole route underground would be no more than $50 million; let alone the partial LNP option.

STOP convener John Cooper said:

While Energex is making record profits from ever rising electricity prices and selling off their retail departments, the, executives with their big bonuses are telling the residents of the Gold Coast that there is no money to underground their 110,000 volt powerline. It seems profits are more important than the health and well being of the community.

An Energex report on its final recommendations following the earlier consultations and receipt of protest submissions was originally to be forwarded to the Energy Minister Geoff Wilson last November for his consideration. It was then put back to January and, since the election was called, Energex now says the report is still being finalised. Energex can’t say when it will be ready.

It’s one thing for Energex to stall, but given the LNP has stated its position before the polls, a STOP rally this Sunday at Palm Beach will demand, on behalf of thousands of affected voters in the Mudgeeraba and Burleigh electorates, the ALP declare its position or risk the ballot box consequences.

Declaration of interest: Ross Stapleton is a Palm Beach resident, but is not sufficiently close to the proposed route to worry about glowing in the dark!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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