Power rises zap consumers as winter approaches

By Patrick OSullivan

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Darrin Crombie and his step daughter Teanalee Hooper will be affected by power rises. Photo/Warren Buckland
Darrin Crombie and his step daughter Teanalee Hooper will be affected by power rises. Photo/Warren Buckland

Hawke's Bay electricity consumers are being zapped by price increases going into winter.

Consumer-owned Unison Networks has increased its line charges to electricity retailers by about 10 per cent from April 1 and Centralines has increased by about 9 per cent.

Unison customer care and relationship manager Danny Gough said the increase was an extra $10 per month for the average consumer in Napier and Hastings.

Unison's line charges, a repeat of last year's increase, includes a national grid increased charge of 3.3 per cent. It was prompted by the Commerce Commission to increase its line charges, along with 16 other electricity distribution companies, to ensure integrity of service.

Mr Gough said some may not receive an increased power bill.

"Last year some retailers chose not to put those costs through or they didn't change their prices until later in the year," he said.

Napier Family Centre CEO Kath Curran said when household budgets got "really tight" people tended to cut back on the groceries.

"This is just not sustainable for families, as eventually issues around health and nutrition will get worse if there isn't enough budget for food.

"We maintain that food, power and rent are the top three absolute essential items in a household budget. So, for many families an extra $10 cost on any of these top three will definitely hurt."

Hastings resident Darrin Crombie said his power bill cost $20 per week in summer but during the winter it could swing to $120 a week.

"It just depends how cold it is," he said.

"We use our heat pump just to take the chill off our two-storey two-bedroom place but we find at certain times of the day it gets quite expensive, even without the oven going - we do a lot of cooking in our electric frying pan."

Last winter was "quite hard" while he upskilled to help find employment.

"At the moment I'm working but last year I was on a course and it was very, very hard to manage - it put a real strain on us."

He hopes this winter will be better with his partner and child - he has taken on a house maintenance and paving franchise with ILP Contracting Ltd.

"The people that are going to struggle are those on a benefit. Even firewood is dear now - people should buy it in summer when it's cheaper."

Hastings consumer Blair Price said electricity retailers operated on "huge" mark-ups and electricity was a necessity to life but price increases above the rate of inflation made it unaffordable for many.

"People will have health issues because of the high price of electricity," he said.

"Going into winter we are going to have old people in bed 24 hours a day, because that's the only way they can keep warm.

"People might say, so what's an extra $100 a year? There are a lot of older people out there who can't afford to put the heater on in winter and firewood's bloody expensive. If they get crook then all of a sudden there is a funeral to pay for."

Centralines area manager Trevor Hanson said Central Hawke's Bay line charges would increase about 9 per cent from April 1. Board chairman Sam Robinson said most of the increase, which was to guarantee continuity of supply and maintain asset value, would be rebated back to consumers.

Wairoa line charges are due to increase by 4.5 per cent. Eastland Network sector general manager Brent Stewart said for the average domestic consumer the increase should equate to about a 1.6 per cent ($3.40 per month) increase on their electricity bill.

Tararua District's Scanpower is not increasing its line charges.

Last year 15 per cent of Hawke's Bay households switched retailers in search of a better deal, up from 13 per cent in 2012 when the Electricity Authority said the average customer saved $175 by making a switch.

Meanwhile, The average power bill for a family of four will rise by 2.4 per cent this year, Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges said yesterday as he faced questions from political opponents intent on making electricity increases an election-year issue.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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