Regional businesses are beginning to succumb to the pressure of unaffordable energy as Australia’s gas crisis continues to bite.
Most important points:
- Advance Bricks at Stawell in regional Victoria will close next week
- The family business has been around for 82 years, but is succumbing to rising gas prices
- Complaints to ACCC about behavior of energy companies doubled
In the Victorian town of Stawell, about 230 km northwest of Melbourne, local manufacturer Advance Bricks is ceasing to be in business after more than 82 years.
Managing director John Collins says the company, which employs 23 people, was unable to pay its utility bills after the collapse of commercial gas supplier Weston Energy in late May forced it into a plan with “retailer of last resort” Energy Australia.
Mr. Collins said the company, one of the city’s largest employers, was paying $6 to $8 per gigajoule of gas overnight to more than $37 per gigajoule, and no other gas retailer could manage the brickworks. supply because Energy Australia was the only other retailer that had access to the gas pipeline.
“The claim by (Victorian) Prime Minister Andrews and (Federal) Secretary Bowen that heavy industries can switch to renewable energy is complete and utter fantasy,” he said.
Local Nationals MP Anne Webster said she feared a “rolling tsunami of business closures as we need production to pick up in Australia”.
Energy Australia said it acquired 390 business customers from failed gas retailer Weston Energy on May 24 under the Victorian retailer of last resort process, a feature of the national energy market.
Energy Australia said the gas rates it offered were based on a range of factors, including what it cost to buy gas in a market where all suppliers were paying unusually high prices.
“Stawell and the wider Wimmera region in Victoria is an open market and we welcome increased competition that would give businesses more choice,” said a spokesperson.
“Other energy retailers can make arrangements to supply gas through the pipeline owner.”
Devastating influence on Stawell
Robert McIntosh has been with Advance Bricks for over 30 years, following in his father’s footsteps.
He started as a boy and was paid three cents a stone to clean the stones after school.
The former bricklayer now has a desk job at the factory and said the company’s closure would have a devastating effect on Stawell.
“I think the [brick oven] will be out next week,” he said.
“The stones that are in it are boiled… and when they come out they are slowly rejected and then turned off.”
Mr. McIntosh wasn’t sure when the factory doors would be closing for the last time, but “I’m on vacation for two weeks in a month, so that could be it.”
‘Hard to see them suffer’
Administrator Lynne Scott has been processing accounts and payroll at Advanced Bricks for 20 years.
When she saw the handwritten names of the former employees in the old ledgers, she realized that the company had employed many people in the small town for many years.
“It was so nice to join a family business and work for a family and not be a number,” she said.
“I’m very concerned about the owners because they’ve been here all their lives and they live and breathe the business,”
“We just work for them so we can walk away and do something else, but it’s hard to see them do it and suffer,” Ms Scott said.
“You let your staff go, you don’t get them back.”
Conventional gas exploration and extraction has been permitted in Victoria since mid-last year, but fracking and coal seam extraction have been banned.
Andrews: We have no fracking in this state
Victorian Prime Minister Daniel Andrews said experts believed there was a slim chance of significant onshore conventional gas reserves in the state.
“We have no fracking in our state and we are very proud of that,” he said today.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) received 710 complaints about the behavior of energy companies last month, almost double the average.
So far, the ACCC has received 361 reports this month, mostly from New South Wales and Queensland.
It said it would keep a close eye on anticompetitive or misleading behavior that could harm consumers.
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