Rebecca huntley Columnist

Rebecca is a director of The Mind & Mood Report, an author and social commentator with a background in publishing, academia and politics. She holds degrees in law and film studies and a PhD in Gender Studies.

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Public knows cheap energy era is over

Published 14 November 2012 05:17, Updated 16 May 2013 07:35

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Public knows cheap energy era is over

Plenty of Australians have become religious about turning off power points, converting light bulbs and leaving the clothes dryer dormant only be to hit with gut wrenching power bills thanks to steep electricity price rises. Photo: Jessica Shapiro

There was much to comment on when the federal government released its energy white paper last week.

First and foremost for me was the odd spectacle of two Liberal Premiers Barry O’Farrell and Campbell Newman resisting the logic that privatisation will deliver lower energy prices and greater consumer control (as was the argument put by federal Labor minister Martin Ferguson).

O’Farrell and Newman may be playing the populist angle here but their reading of sentiment is spot on: consumers don’t believe privatisation is the way to subdue rising energy prices.

Of course it has been a perfect storm in terms of energy prices over the past five years or so. Just as consumers were becoming more aware of energy use (for both environmental and financial reasons) and doing what they could to reduce it around the home, the price rises arrived. We met plenty of people who had become religious about turning off power points, converting light bulbs, leaving the clothes dryer dormant only be to hit with a gut wrenching power bill. Government and the energy providers didn’t do a great job in educating the public on the need to upgrade degraded poles and wires. Of course with the carbon price on top of that and consumer sensitivity about cost of living generally, we have seen the rising cost of energy become the topic du jour in many a discussion group since 2010.

While the privatisation aspect of the white paper might not thrill consumers, they will welcome anything that helps them monitor and control their energy use. The smart meters and other smart technologies recommended by the white paper, I expect, will be welcomed.

But when you listen to consumers talk about the rising cost of energy – and while the perceived sharp increases of the past two years have shocked them – it’s clear they understand that the days of “cheap energy” are over. Any rejigging of the “old energy” system to make it more efficient and equitable will be important but that’s only half the picture.

Consumers want a significant investment in alternative energies – solar, wind, even nuclear for some. More important than who owns the energy and how we might monitor our use is a broader, bolder vision for national energy self-sufficiency.

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