Article by: Hari Yellina
As power supply concerns loom, farmers in New South Wales say they are doing everything they can to prepare for blackouts, but some believe it may not be enough. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has issued a warning about potential power outages, with the highest risk of outages occuring in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania. Anthony Sarks utilises electricity for practically everything on his Port Macquarie property, from pumping water to heating strawberries and tomatoes in greenhouses. Although he has backup generators, a major power loss would be terrible for his company. Mr Sarks explained, “We utilise a lot of electricity in our business.” “To keep the greenhouses warm, we keep the heat on all night. Our crops would perish if we didn’t have electricity.”
Mr Sarks blamed the situation on the shift to renewable energy. “If they’re blaming coal-fired power plants for some of the breakdowns, it’s because they’re being told to shut down,” he explained. “It’s just not going to happen for them to spend money on a facility that will be shut down, and that’s where we’re hitting these issues.” “This is a major concern that must be addressed right away.” While many farmers have switched to solar, Mr Sarks claimed his solar system was not as effective as it could be because of the lack of sunlight due to an above-average wet season.
“We have a large solar farm here,” he explained, “but our electricity prices have returned to normal because we haven’t seen any sun for six months.” Bede Burke, a caged egg producer from Tamworth, agrees. His firm runs fans in his sheds 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and while he has switched to solar in part, he said the whole savings have been absorbed by increased electricity bills. “To assume we don’t have the capacity to create power is an absolute alarm bell moment,” Mr Burke added. Justin Jarrett owns a winery in the state’s centre west, near Orange. He’s spent $180,000 on solar panels and other renewable equipment to cut himself off from the grid almost completely. “We would have actually kept running if we had a blackout on Monday because the solar would have been enough to run the winery,” he said. “However, if we didn’t have them [solar panels] and the blackout occurred during harvest, we may be looking at a $400,000 charge.” Mr Jarrett stated that he invested in renewables to mitigate the risk of occurrences beyond his control. “We wanted to reduce those risks where global disturbances are producing all kinds of difficulties,” he explained. “With renewables, we can genuinely go about our daily business without worrying about, ‘Oh my god, is the grid going to be switched off today?'”