Forum in Albury hears how gas and electricity prices threaten to cripple manufacturing in the region

Critical point: Wangaratta textile mill chief operating officer Sandip Ranjan tells how the lack of a gas contract sparked fears the factory may have needed to close. Picture: MARK JESSER

Critical point: Wangaratta textile mill chief operating officer Sandip Ranjan tells how the lack of a gas contract sparked fears the factory may have needed to close. Picture: MARK JESSER

THE dire impact of high energy prices on Border businesses was made clear at an Albury forum on Wednesday.

A Wangaratta textile mill nearly closed in December due to gas contract doubt, Wodonga Abattoir’s energy bill will double this year and Ettamogah’s Norske Skog paper mill will pay an extra $10 million for power.

The concerns were aired to member for Farrer Sussan Ley at an industry event.

Event host AI Group regional manager Tim Farrah said it was clear that energy policy in Australia “is a mess and it is stifling investment” due to skyrocketing gas and electricity prices.

Australian Textile Mills chief operating officer Sandip Ranjan said the gas price for his Wangaratta factory had risen by more than 400 per cent because of a lack of retail competition.

He said uncertainty in December over obtaining a new gas contract had put the mill’s 140 jobs at risk as a shutdown was considered.

Mr Ranjan urged Ms Ley to foster modelling of the number of jobs across industries endangered by ballooning energy costs.

“That would be a good signal to all the political parties what we’re facing in the next two to three years – hundreds of job losses as manufacturing becomes unsustainable,” Mr Ranjan said.

Fuel for thought: AGL chief economist Tim Nelson, Howlong pet food manufacturer Edward Staughton and AI Group public policy adviser Tennant Reed discuss the nation's energy crisis. Picture: MARK JESSER

Fuel for thought: AGL chief economist Tim Nelson, Howlong pet food manufacturer Edward Staughton and AI Group public policy adviser Tennant Reed discuss the nation's energy crisis. Picture: MARK JESSER

Wodonga Abattoir energy consultant Tas Davies said natural gas costs for the meatworks would double this year and he raised concerns at foreigners being prioritised over domestic users.

“Natural gas is the fuel of transition and we’re basically giving that away, giving away our competitive advantage overseas,” Mr Davies said.

“It’s going to hurt this country big-time.”

Norske Skog general manager Milo Foster said high gas prices were “wiping out” export income for the paper mill and rising electricity costs had cancelled $3½ million invested in a small steam turbine.

He recalled meeting then federal energy minister Martin Ferguson and “begging” for a policy allowing some LNG to be reserved for the domestic market and being told it could not be done.

Mr Foster said it was apparent Australia was now suffering because of the failure to have a reservation policy.

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