High cost of energy hurts HB

By PATRICK O'SULLIVAN

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 Electricity price rises are hurting Hawke's Bay households, as winter chills bring painful bills.

The Ministry of Economic Development's quarterly survey of domestic energy prices shows power companies are charging Hawke's Bay households up to 19per cent more than for the same time last year.

Energy Direct's average consumers in Napier and Hastings are paying $391 more a year for their electricity than they were a year ago.

The survey, to May 15, also reveals a large price disparity in regional charges.

Contact Energy, the largest electricity retailer in Hawke's Bay, charges 28.5 cents per kilowatt hour in Dannevirke and 34.95c in Wairoa where line charges are higher for a difference of 22.6 per cent. Line company charges account for about 40 per cent of customer bills.

National grid owner and operator Transpower is upgrading the national grid, causing power prices to rise until at least 2015, when most projects will be completed.

Hawke's Bay has four line companies. Eastland in Wairoa, Unison in Napier/Hastings, Centralines in Central Hawke's Bay and Scanpower in Dannevirke. In the past five years Eastland has lifted its charges 29.5 per cent, Unison's 51.2 per cent, Centralines 60.4 per cent and Scanpower 41.5 per cent.

NZ consumers have dealt with some of the steepest power price increases in the world during the past 20 years.

A report by Consumer NZ said the typical family power bill in main centres had gone up 78 per cent in the past eight years, yet from 1979 to 2009 commercial electricity prices fell in real terms by 37 per cent and industrial prices by 3 per cent.

Ministry of Economic Development figures show New Zealand's residential electricity prices are less than the OECD average.

State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall said government moves to increase competition in the sector were working.

The Electricity Authority's "What's My Number" customer switching campaign has been cited as responsible for Contact losing more than 15,000 customers since it began in June last year.

Power switching websites enable customers to see how much money they can save if they change power companies.

"New Zealanders are increasingly taking advantage of that [regulatory] change and are switching companies for a cheaper deal," Mr Ryall said. "Treasury advises that in the 12 months from May 2011 to April 2012, 422,256 customers changed electricity retailers."

Consumer NZ report last year said that since 2003, average power prices for homes had risen by almost 7 per cent a year. Between 1982 and 1992, the average increase was 0.6 per cent a year.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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