Power discount plan wins votes

By Genevieve Helliwell

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Power to the people.

That's the call today from Tauranga senior citizens after New Zealand First proposed a 10 per cent winter power discount for SuperGold Card holders in next month's Budget.

The proposal would provide relief for about 18,000 Western Bay people. Nationally, the scheme could benefit more than 590,000 SuperGold Card holders and would cost power companies about $34 million a year.

Barry Hodder, 65, supported the proposal and told the Bay of Plenty Times the money he would save would go towards groceries.

Mr Hodder said he and many others who lived in the Vale St Village struggled to pay living costs, which had increased substantially over the past few years.

He and fellow village resident, Phil Edwards, supported the New Zealand First proposal, which would allow SuperGold Card holders a 10 per cent saving on their power bill during the months of May to October. Each card holder would save about $100 per winter.

"I support it, yes. [The bills] are too bloody dear as they are," Mr Hodder said.

"My average power bill is about $160 a fortnight and my costs keep going up. I'm struggling. Everybody's struggling, so I hope this happens," he said.

Mr Edwards, 88, said his bills were about the same cost as Mr Hodder's and he struggled to pay his bills, even with a disability pension.

"I want to see our pensions rise. If John Key can go on a trip every now and again, he should be able to support us a bit more."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said a discount on winter electricity prices for SuperGold Card holders was the "responsible thing" to do in times of sharply increasing costs.

"We want the Government to tell the state-owned power companies to invoke the social responsibility clause in the SOE Act to enable this discount scheme to happen," Mr Peters said.

He said power companies and the Commerce Commission acted as a "price-fixing cartel" which saw domestic users pay more than their fair share.

"Households are carrying industrial and commercial consumers on their backs. It is grossly unfair that domestic users are subsidising industrial consumers to the tune of about 145 per cent and commercial users by about 66 per cent.

"It is particularly unfair to senior citizens in cold climates. They helped build and pay for one of the most reliable and inexpensive electricity systems in the world but now they are at the mercy of the price fixing cartel."

Mr Peters said power companies were "highly profitable" and "would benefit from a larger customer base".

Representatives from local branches of Grey Power and Age Concern supported the New Zealand First proposal and said the saving of about $100 each winter would be substantial for someone on a pension.

Western Bay of Plenty Grey Power acting president Warren Townsend said there were about 18,000 people over the age of 65 in the Western Bay who would benefit. "The thing is these people have been paying taxes their whole life and now they're facing further hardship. [The pension] has increased fractionally but not enough to cover increasing costs."

"We are very much in favour of this and I think the savings will be quite substantial for some people."

Age Concern chief executive Michael Tyrer said the saving wouldn't make much of a difference for him as he worked, but for those who relied solely on their pension, the saving would be substantial.

"It's not just power, everything is increasing. The whole cost of living is escalating for people on the pension and $100 over the six months is quite a chunk."

But Prime Minister John Key has rejected the idea and suggested Mr Peters apologise for not introducing the measure when he was in government.

Mr Key also said that under Labour power prices increased 72 per cent from 1999 to 2008 and Mr Peters was part of the Labour government between 2005-2008.

Tauranga MP Simon Bridges said the proposal was "not a realistic policy in 2012" and the Government would have to borrow money from overseas to pay for it.

"Actually, we've done a really good job at trying to help pensioners and since we've been in government, pensioner rates have increased by $194 per couple per fortnight, so that's a 22 per cent increase," Mr Bridges said.

"We've done our very best to try and smooth out the edges of the recession for senior citizens."

Mr Peters described the dismissal of the idea as callous.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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