In the mid-eighteenth century, coal engines did not only power factories and illuminate streets; they fired up entire nations. Burning coal allowed for material production to explode.
It facilitated the development of the quintessential assembly line necessary to produce building materials like iron to build infrastructure and allowed for the mass production boom. Burning coal allowed goods to be transported across countries and saw diaspora from pastoralist lifestyles to the thick smog of the city for employment.
In 1863 Sydneysiders saw electricity in action for the first time with the illumination of a battery powered lamp on Observatory Hill in celebration of the marriage of the Prince of Wales.
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The Punch can’t resist a HOLY SHIZ MEDICAL DISCOVERY story. So how about this: Electricity could one day be used to regenerate lost limbs and bodily tissues.
Now can somebody give that bloke Tesla some credit for inventing the stuff already? How many planets does he need to power before he eclipses bloody Edison?
It’s Wednesday. What’s electrifying you at the moment?
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Mark Taylor has a lot to answer for.
For years the former Test captain has been interrupting matches to implore Australians to run out and buy air conditioners. It’s working.
Air conditioner penetration in Australia has exploded rapidly in recent years from 30 per cent in 2001, to 70 per cent in 2011. That’s a massive jump.
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When it comes to the question of cost of living, nothing focuses the mind as sharply as opening your power bill. In the past few months there have been competing studies showing that Australians are stretched to the hilt; conversely, other research suggests that on many measures we are doing better than other countries in the OECD.
The one cost increase which is not in dispute in this country is electricity.
I was reminded of this the hard way the other day when I went to the letterbox and got a quarterly bill from my good friends at AGL for $1590, for a four-bedroom house which is often unoccupied.
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The biggest reader reaction I have ever had to a column involved a fight with the power company AGL, which had hit me with a baffling bill which had jumped by $700 in just one quarter.
The column examined the question of actual meter readings versus estimated readings, and the issuing of so-called “catch-up” bills by power companies which for whatever reason had undercooked an earlier bill, leaving them with no choice but to whack the consumer with a kind of one-off bill which would force you to sell one of your kidneys.
In researching the piece I was snowed with some largely (and possibly deliberately) confusing explanations from power providers as to how the meters were read by a different company which was at arms length from their business. Both the power providers and the meter readers seemed more than happy to blame each other for all the confusion, and the subsequent one-off impost.
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One day, Gina Rinehart is projected to be worth $100 billion. In the past, I’ve argued she should use a big chunk of that money to do something grand, like fund an entire Aussie space program.
So imagine what two particularly philanthropic Ginas could do if they both decided to invest $100 billion into Australian infrastructure.
According to reports this week, during secret mining tax negotiations the day before he was knifed as Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd struck an in-principle deal with mining exec Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest that would’ve allowed mining companies to avoid liability for the 40 per cent mining tax by instead writing off their capital expenditure on Australian infrastructure. Estimates suggested the plan would’ve pumped at least $200 billion into Australian infrastructure every five years. A huge deal for the country.
There are sentences which in politics can sum up the mood of the times. In the United States in 1992 it was Bill Clinton’s “It’s the economy, stupid” which encapsulated the sense among voters that George Bush Snr was not focussed on bread and butter issues affecting family budgets.
For all the heat in Australia around issues such as border protection and gay marriage, the number one concern for put-upon families is the cost of living. It is simply staggering how expensive Australia has become. Once, tourists from the United States and Europe would come here and live like kings off the back of our low dollar; today they must think long and hard about whether a visit Down Under is affordable.
For those of us who actually do live here, the joys of a cheap holiday to the States, where you can do a year’s clothes shopping at stores like Gap for less than $200, in no way erase the often depressing budgetary reality of life in a country where the cost of power, real estate, petrol, clothes and food have been off the scale for the past few years.
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The staggering rise in electricity prices over the past few years has been the single-biggest cost of living issue for average families trying to bring up kids and get into the housing market. The impact of these price rises, and the anger they have generated, has been seriously underestimated both by governments trying to remain in power and oppositions trying to win office.
The trickle-down effect of this explosion in the cost of living has not yet been fully examined. As one example, there were figures out on the weekend showing that the rate of home ownership in Australia had fallen from 71.4 per cent to 69.5 per cent, in defiance of trends across the OECD. You could validly speculate as to how many Australians who would love to shift from renting to owning are so tied up paying inflated bills that they simply can’t get a deposit together.
State governments have tried to quarantine themselves from any responsibility for the spiral, arguing that price rises are out of their hands and the result of external factors. Oppositions have been sluggish to make governments own the problem.
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Australian women hate nuclear power. Men quite like it, but women would rather go back to candles.
This is the startling finding of Auspoll’s latest research, a poll of 1,500 Australians’ attitudes to the sticky problem of how we should generate the energy to run our homes, industries and, well, everything.
Not so long ago we never thought much about energy - flick a switch and there it is. We hardly knew nor cared how it was generated, how it got to our kitchens or what fuel ran the generator. It was enough that the lights came on.
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Last week we asked the question - how much bad publicity can you buy for $801.91. That’s the amount I’d been charged by my power company for two months’ electricity in a one-bedroom apartment, extravagantly fitted with such turbo-charged items as a toaster and a radio.
The answer was a two-page bucketing in The Daily Telegraph. Given the equally ferocious reader response to the column, the bad publicity will now extend to a generous four pages, not (just) out of some vindictive sense of payback, but because there is a serious rort going on with our power companies.
It involves guess work around meter readings, which creates a gap when an actual reading is made at which a so-called catch-up bill is issued. When an actual reading is made, customers are billed at a new, increased rate for power they used months ago, before the price had gone up.
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Ban the bomb, no new mines, the three mines policy, additional mines, street marches, fear of nuclear terrorism and the existence of rogue states with nuclear power or weaponry have all been elements in the debate about uranium mining, processing or nuclear power for a long time.
Perhaps its time to get past emotion fear and inconsistency and concentrate on rational debate in a coherent manner.
We are a blessed continent with more than adequate supplies of coal, gas and oil. We are major exporters to the rest of the world in each of these commodities. As I write new sources of energy like coal seam gas, costing tens of billions of dollars have become mainstream in Australia.
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I am not sure how much bad publicity you can buy for $801.91. If you based it on newspaper advertising rates you would get about an eighth of a page. To err on the side of generosity, here’s a couple of pages’ worth from Sydney’s biggest newspaper, aimed squarely at the miserable sods at the electricity company AGL.
To be clear from the outset, this isn’t some sly journalistic attempt to dodge a bill, albeit a ludicrous, unjustified bill. In my dealings with AGL – two convoluted telephone conversations and an email which they have not answered - I have not identified myself as a journalist. If their PR department tries to get in touch, they should save themselves the phone call as I’m paying this bill through gritted teeth, but writing about it here with a perverse degree of glee for two public interest reasons.
The first is that it simply shows the staggering increases in power prices which, while capable of being begrudgingly absorbed by an affluent person, would blast a hole in the budget of any normal family on the average wage.
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There is a squeamish message on the Cross City Tunnel website headed “Toll adjustment - 1st October 2010” which is notable for two reasons.
The first is that it reminds us how, in these jargon-addled times, things such as tolls never go up, jump or rise. They simply “adjust”. The second is that it demonstrates how the NSW Labor Government has abrogated much of its responsibility for protecting taxpayers from cost of living increases.
The construction of the Cross City Tunnel, as you may recall, finished behind schedule – but because of the contract between its operators and the NSW Government, where the price of the toll is linked to CPI, the toll actually went up before the road even opened.
One of the worst things I’ve seen in ages was the Copenhagen Climate Summit opening film, where a small child has terrible, apocalyptic nightmares after learning about human-induced climate change.
Talk about scandalous fear-mongering. If we’re serious about enlightening young people about sound environmental custodianship, surely the worst approach is a campaign of outright fear.
Less extreme but just as futile is the path of symbolic, one-off action underpinned by a threat of doom. Earth Hour is one such initiative. Its official slogan might as well be “Lights off for an hour tomorrow or it’ll be lights off forever”.
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We are all too familiar with the satellite picture of North Korea in darkness at night and the horror stories of millions of people living in impoverishment. More recently I have read Barbara Demick’s, Nothing To Envy: Love, Life and Death in North Korea.
This book is both depressing yet insightful. The journey you take while reading is one of disbelief of a state starving its people yet demanding hero worship of its leaders. The book shows too that no matter how hard a state seeks to control its people, individual spirit cannot be crushed. North Koreans inventiveness and street smarts have been tested to the limit, just in order to survive in such a dysfunctional regime. The book does, however, drive home that a functioning electricity sector is indeed the backbone of every economy.
At the weekend, Federal Minister for Energy, Hon Martin Ferguson MP, in plain speaking, said that we need to come to terms with the true cost of electricity. I couldn’t agree more and full credit to him for raising the issue.
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