Energy ministers to discuss financial support for businesses as gas prices push 82-year-old family-owned brickworks to the edge

Gas energy

Gas burning at Victoria’s Longford Gas Conditioning Plant. Source: Joe Castro/AAP.

Federal and state energy ministers will this week consider financial support for small businesses facing massive gas price spikes, as the power crisis pushes some firms to the brink.

Natural gas prices have surged from an average of between $6 and $8 a gigajoule to in excess of $30 a gigajoule in some regions, as international and domestic factors drive demand.

The Australian Financial Review now reports Victorian Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio plans to put Australia’s business community on the agenda of the upcoming crisis summit.

While household consumers have been offered hardship support in NSW and $250 payments for selecting a cheaper plan in Victoria, D’Ambrosio says more could be done to shelter the private sector.

“With the energy ministers meeting, one of the things that certainly I’ll be putting on the agenda is what are we going to do to support our business community, our manufacturers, because we are certainly investing significantly in helping households,” she told the paper.

The report did not run through the kinds of financial support D’Ambrosio may have in mind.

Her statement comes just days after Advance Bricks, an 82-year-old business in Stawell, Victoria, announced it will likely close its doors due to unaffordable gas bills.

Speaking to the ABC, Advance Bricks managing director John Collins said the failure of its previous commercial gas supplier led to a new deal with Energy Australia under the Australian Energy Regulator’s Retailer of Last Resort Plan.

But the current deal is too dear for the company, meaning the firm’s 23 employees will be stood down once the brickworks turns off its ovens.

An Advance Bricks representative was unavailable for comment as of Monday morning.

As ministers gear up for the crisis meeting, Australia’s Energy Security Board on Monday revealed its own plan to stop future instances of sharp cost increases in times of high demand.

In a “high-level consultation paper” released Monday, the ESB suggested coal and gas power plants could be paid to retain baseload capabilities for the energy market, instead of being paid for the energy it actually provides.

The paper also suggests the states could be allowed to choose which projects are funded by the scheme, after Victoria and the ACT turned down the idea of paying fossil fuel generators to stay online in case of blackouts or other network stresses.

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