Country traders pay more for power

THE Northern Rivers is at risk of losing businesses to the big smoke because they are being slugged up to 51 per cent more for electricity than their city counterparts.

Business owners say it is tough enough operating in regional areas without the extra burden of the bigger bills, which can be as much as $100,000 a year more than those in the city.

Tony Gilding, owner of the Macadamia Castle at Knockrow, said his annual five-figure electricity bill was a major cost, and having to pay more here than he would in the city was simply not fair.

"We should not be disadvantaged like this," he said.

"Lots of people in the country have to use their electricity for more things than people in the city, and the double whammy of having to pay more isn't right."

Ballina MP Don Page said he was concerned about the issue, which he said was highlighted in a report by market advisory company KPMG.

The report explained rural and regional electricity networks were more expensive to run because they served less dense populations.

The survey found a large regional manufacturer using 9GWh (gigawatt hours) of electricity a year would pay up to $100,000 - or 51 per cent - more than a similar-sized city firm.

For big power users the gap between urban and regional costs was largest in NSW.

A smaller regional manufacturing business consuming 1.4GWh a year would pay up to $22,000 more for power, 43 per cent more than a similar business in the city.

Mr Page, shadow minister for small business and regulatory reform, said it was not fair regional businesses had to 'do it tough'.

"The regions are crying out for increased services and jobs," he said.

"Yet this report shows that many regional businesses will be inclined to move to more cost-effective areas.

"I have further concerns that electricity costs in regional areas are likely to increase even more with privatisation of the electricity industry."

Mr Gilding said the answer was not in simply cutting the cost of electricity, but in finding more sustainable ways of producing it.

There is so much sunshine here that we should have an electricity buy-back scheme where you are guaranteed a certain amount of money from the electricity company to buy back what you don't use," he said.

Ballina Chamber of Commerce and Industry secretary Bryan Marriott said the higher costs did not give business owners much incentive to operate in regional areas, and the costs should be more equal so they were not at risk of losing employers.

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