Carmen is a social issues and rural reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Bay residents slow to switch power company

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More than 10,000 Tauranga residents changed power companies in the year to May but the Bay still has one of the lowest switching rates in the country, new figures show.

Data from the Electricity Authority from May 1, 2015 to May 31, 2016 reveals 10137 customers switched compared with 9213 for the 13 months before.

Figures show Trustpower lost 4009 customers and gained 3124. However, the company picked up the largest market share of new connections.

Energy Online, a subsidiary of Genesis Energy, gained 1041 customers and lost 756; Powershop, a subsidiary of Meridian Energy, gained 600 and lost 386 while Globug, owned by Mighty River Power, gained 427 customers and lost 236.

Electricity Authority chief executive Carl Hansen said the Bay of Plenty had one of the lowest switching rates in the country.

In 2015, the Bay of Plenty ranked 12th out of the regions in terms of switching activity. That was despite there being between 14 and 17 power companies to choose from.

"The market is more competitive than ever, but there is still more to come. We're aware of five parties who are building or testing their systems right now as they get ready to enter the electricity retail market."

And it was not just about price, he said.

"The increase in competition means retailers are always looking for new ways to stand out from the crowd.

"That's great news for consumers as there are lots of different options to choose from, including different types of pricing and payment plans, bundled options and lots of different incentives and discounts on offer."

It was changing times in the electricity sector, Mr Hansen said.

"The prices of battery technology and solar panels are falling rapidly which will give savvy consumers a whole range of different options to consider. It's exciting times."

Trustpower commercial operations general manager Chris O'Hara said overall the business had experienced significant growth.

"In addition to the 3124 customer gains more than 2300 new connections (mostly new houses) joined Trustpower."

Nationally the Tauranga company picked up 16,943 ICPs or new connections.

"In addition to electricity growth, we added a net 6431 gas connections and 24,060 broadband connections last year. We now supply around 32,000 gas connections and over 65,000 broadband customers, including almost half of the ultrafast fibre connections in Tauranga," Mr O'Hara said.

Trustpower was also the only company that offered a bundle of electricity, gas (or LPG) and phone/broadband, including discounts for having multiple services. "Provided TECT's policy remains the same, Trustpower customers will receive a cheque later this year that includes payments to electricity customers, with bonus payments for broadband ($100) and gas or LPG ($50)."

A Globug spokesperson said customers appreciated the flexibility of paying in small amounts and "never having to be in debt to their energy company".

Genesis Energy and Energy Online spokesman Richard Gordon said there had been a high degree of competition for customers across the country in the last 12 months.

Genesis had lost 101 customers in Tauranga, but Energy Online had picked up 285, putting the company ahead by 184 customers.

"We've gone up with one brand and down with the other.

"From our point of view, it's not great to lose 100 customers and we work pretty hard to retain out customers and provide pretty competitive services and practices and unique offerings, but numbers go up and down depending on whatever else is in the market."

Mr Gordon said the company's switch rate was around 20 per cent, compared with an industry average of 21 per cent. He said the electricity and gas market was highly competitive with a raft of large, medium and boutique retailers. In a competitive energy market, every company in New Zealand was vying for the same customers, he said.

"For most providers, that means doing whatever they can to get attention, like interrupting your personal time knocking on your door day or night."

Last year the company used an anti-door knockers viral campaign that was viewed over 10 million times using video and social media.

Powershop chief executive Ari Sargent said the company offered customers flexibility.

Not locking customers in to fixed-term contracts was an attractive option for customers in the Tauranga area, he said.

Tauranga Budget Advisory Service manager Diane Bruin said an average family would spend $50 to $60 per week for family of four and more in winter.

"Power has always been a concern."

People should shop around and compare electricity and gas offers from suppliers in the region, she said.

"People need to be aware of how many units they are using. This may mean they are high or low users and need to be on the right charge rate compared to usage."

Consumer NZ research writer Jessica Wilson said the Powerswitch site averaged 45,000 sessions a month but the five largest power companies still had the lion's share of the market.

Price was a key factor for consumers but other elements should be considered including customer satisfaction, whether you would be locked into a fixed-term contract and have to pay a fee if you want to end it and if the company offered better tariffs for off-peak use.

Want to switch?

* Check www.whatsmynumber.org.nz regularly.

* You don't necessarily need to switch, but you should keep checking to make sure you are getting the best deal.

* If you decide to switch, the process is incredibly straightforward.

* Your new retailer will take care of everything and your power supply and the reliability of your service won't be impacted.

* It only takes two minutes to check, so it's definitely worth the effort.

- Electricity Authority

- Bay of Plenty Times

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