Power hike a $250m jolt for sugar industry

A TOTAL of $250 million could be sucked out of the Bundaberg region's economy in the wake of a 20% electricity price rise for irrigators.

The jolt for the agriculture sector came yesterday as the Queensland Competition Authority (QCA) released its final price determination on prices.

Isis Canegrowers had estimated earlier that a big price rise would mean farmers would be unable to irrigate and the area's production would be cut back by about $100 million.

And Bundaberg Regional Irrigators Group secretary Dale Holliss estimated a further $150 million would be cut from Bundaberg's production should power prices make irrigation unaffordable. He said the increase was "very disappointing".

Mr Holliss said the increase would take power price rises to about 100% in the past five years, well above the Consumer Price Index.

Cane grower Larry Borg said the price rise could lead to massive job losses in the industry.

"Farmers aren't going to able to afford to irrigate," he said. "If we don't irrigate we will go to dry-land farming."

Bundaberg Canegrowers chairman Allan Dingle agreed the increase would mean productivity would fall away.

Member for Bundaberg Jack Dempsey said he was not happy about the price rises. But he said nearly three- quarters of the increase was due to rising network costs and green schemes to which the former Labor government had signed up Queenslanders and this gave the QCA few options.

Member for Burnett Stephen Bennett said electricity price rises were completely out of the State Government's control. He said he had spoken to growers many times, and he acknowledged more price rises would cause a death spiral for some.

Palmer United Party candidate for Hinkler Rob Messenger said if his party won power it would remove the carbon tax and refund it retrospectively. He said the average cane farmer's annual electricity bill for irrigation alone was $40,000, and warned if this was not halved in the budget the threat of closure of Bingera Sugar Mill and the loss of hundreds of direct and indirect jobs could be back on the table