July 27th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Fixing Australia: Can we trust the Morrison Government?

ENERGY Yallourn early closure more than a mere challenge, Mr Premier

CANBERRA OBSERVED Can Labor learn a lesson or is it unredeemable?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS High power prices lead to more deaths of elderly

GENDER POLITICS Catholic Ed's document strong on doctrine, weak on protocols

ENERGY Renewables do push up power price: Chicago economists

OBITUARY The eminence of Dr Joe Santamaria

HISTORY OF SCIENCE Faith and reason and Father Stanley Jaki, Part 6: Medieval Christendom sparks a revolution

ENVIRONMENT As many Pacific islands are rising as are sinking

ASIAN AFFAIRS Uyghurs lose in ethnic power play

POETRY AND HISTORY The epic of the White Horse

HUMOUR On patrol with Father Bruce

MUSIC Joao Gilberto: Carrier of melodies

CINEMA Crawl: Toothful entertainment

BOOK REVIEW America's postwar boom and its end

BOOK REVIEW The story of the drafting of a great document

BOOK REVIEW The facts behind an undying distortion



FOREIGN AFFAIRS Boris Johnson and the EU: Crash through or just crash

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High power prices lead to more deaths of elderly

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, July 27, 2019

Soaring energy prices are leading to an increased number of hospital admissions of elderly Australians, with some dying of hypothermia, according to recent studies by NSW Health and the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.

Information released by NSW Health in May revealed that more than 130 people were admitted to NSW emergency departments last winter with cold-related problems, including hypothermia.

This is a 34 per cent rise in 10 years.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) says that wholesale power prices have soared by more than 150 per cent in the last four years but, for many people, prices have gone even higher as a result of the introduction of service fees that are imposed regardless of usage.

Interestingly, the rising price of power comes at a time when base-load coal-fired power stations are being closed, and there is increased reliance on renewables (particularly solar and wind power) for electricity generation.

Poor worst affected

Rising power prices disproportionately affect those on fixed incomes, including the elderly who comprised most of those admitted to hospitals with hypothermia.

A study recently released by Alfred Health in Victoria revealed a similar trend. Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah, a general medicine physician at the Alfred, said an influx of people suffering hypothermia during the winter of 2015 – the coldest experienced in Victoria in 26 years – alerted doctors to the problem.

As a result, research was conducted into the number of hypothermia cases in two large public hospitals in Melbourne, the Alfred and the Sandringham Hospital, which is part of the Alfred Health Network, and published in the Internal Medicine Journal.

In these two hospitals alone, 217 people presented to emergency departments with hypothermia between 2009 and 2016. Of those, 11 per cent died.

Dr Ananda-Rajah said: “Questions must be asked as to why these people are developing this condition, particularly the elderly who are indoors.

“The elderly seem to be particularly vulnerable. Do they have adequate heating and homes that are well insulated? Are they wearing adequate clothing? Are they able to afford heating?”

Striking confirmation of the effect of rising prices on the poor came recently, when Sydney radio talk-back host Steve Price opened the lines after expressing disbelief that people would be suffering hypothermia because they could not afford heating.

According to 2GB, he was “inundated” with calls telling him of the effect of soaring prices. One caller, an 89-year-old woman named Helen, said she could not afford to keep herself warm.

“I’m in bed,” she said, “I can’t get up to turn the heater on and if I could, I couldn’t pay the bill. I’m under two doonas, a dressing gown and I’m freezing.” She blamed the closure of coal-fired power stations for the price rise.

Data from AEMO, which administers the national electricity market, shows how dramatically electricity prices have risen over recent years.

In 2015, Victoria’s electricity was the cheapest in the country, averaging just $30.35 per megawatt/hour. Four years later, it had risen to become the most expensive in the country, at $109.81 per MWh. It was in this period that the 2,000-MW Hazelwood Power Station was closed.

South Australia, which in 2015 had an average power cost of $39.29 per MWh, had risen by 2019 to $109.80 per MWh. South Australia suffered from the closure of its last remaining coal-fired power station in that time, and became dependent on electricity imported from Victoria.

Queensland, where power in 2015 was $52.52 per MWh, had risen to $80.29 in 2019, the lowest in the country.

The rises in prices of electricity have been accompanied by substantial rises in gas prices.

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) posts trends in wholesale and retail prices. It shows that, in Victoria, where prices had been around $3–4 per gigajoule until 2015, prices have soared to around $10 per GJ wholesale since then.

The underlying causes of the rapid rise in gas prices are the establishment of an integrated east-coast gas market on top of the large Queensland LNG export terminals, creating a situation where the domestic gas price is now heavily influenced by international natural gas prices.

Additionally, the Bass Strait gasfields owned by Esso-BHP are facing depletion, after 50 years of providing low-cost gas to south-eastern Australia.

Although the southern half of Victoria contains large shale gas reserves, the Victorian ALP Government has banned both conventional and unconventional (fracking) onshore gas exploration, exacer­bating the gas shortage.

In light of this, there is little prospect of a decline in electricity or gas prices unless the Federal Government takes urgent steps to rebuild the declining level of base-load power. More deaths of poor and elderly Australians from hypothermia can be guaranteed.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm