It seems to me that a key driver of rising electricity prices that doesn’t get much attention in the electricity prices debate is population growth. This growth was driving electricity prices up at twice the rate of CPI long before the carbon price ever showed up. I did a detailed speech in Parliament in late 2010 about this issue, which pointed out that electricity prices in Sydney and Melbourne had doubled in the previous decade, which was twice the rate of CPI.
The impact of population growth on the cost of infrastructure isn’t well understood, not even by policy makers. If the average life of the nation’s infrastructure is 50 years, then you’ve got to set aside 2% of the nation’s income every year to keep replacing it and deal with it wearing out. But if your population is increasing by 2% a year then the new people need 100% extra infrastructure for their needs, so you’ve got to set aside another 2% of the nation’s income for that, that is, twice as much as with a stable population.
A 2% population increase only gets you 2% extra income, but it doubles your infrastructure spend. That’s why electricity, gas, water, council rates all keep rising higher than inflation. I don’t think it’s fair that pensioners and ordinary consumers should have to pay for this. I think that it’s the beneficiaries of population growth who should pay for the costs of it. The principal beneficiaries are the property developers whose land values rise when population rises.