Power bills give aged cold shiver

By Cassandra Mason

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Northland pensioners face a grim winter of hardship after average power bills jumped $66 in the last year - and the region had the biggest power price rises over the past five years - Grey Power warns.

Grey Power is trying to negotiate a national deal for cheaper power for its 64,000 members amid reports some elderly are not heating their homes because it's too expensive.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Quarterly Survey of Domestic Power Prices shows residential power prices in all regions increased in the year to May, from $17.19 in Dunedin to $182.36 in Gisborne.

The study, which relied on Electricity Authority data, was based on an average household using 8000kWh per annum, close to the nationwide average residential consumption.

The average Northland power bill jumped $66 in the past year, $1 more than the national average.

However, since 2008 the annual average power bill in Northland has increased by $588, or 30.8 per cent - the largest in the country over the five years - with Nelson-Marlborough ($519 rise at 27 per cent) having the next biggest rise.

Whangarei Grey Power secretary Dorothea Johnson said the outlook for Northland's elderly was grim.

"You have to look at power prices alongside everything else that's going up, like petrol," Mrs Johnson said. "It's being compounded all the time and we've just had one hit after another."

Power companies were putting a lot of pressure on Northland's elderly to change suppliers, and most offered deals that were not "honest", she said. But the proposed discount power deal would mean lower prices for all Grey Power members.

"It is difficult for all us elderly. It makes you watch every penny. But frugality will only go so far."

Northland Genesis Energy customers with Top Power lines company suffered the biggest price hike of $316 in the past year. This represented a 13.9 per cent increase in retail power costs from May 2012. Part of this rise was a result of a $41 increase in lines charges.

Genesis Energy customers with Northpower lines company enjoyed no increase in power prices, despite a $35 hike in lines charges.

Electricity Authority figures show 15,060 Northland residents switched power companies in the last year. Electricity Authority chief executive Carl Hansen said more people were changing power companies thanks to greater awareness and pitching from retailers.

Grey Power's discount power project is headed by its national office, which is advising members to avoid signing up for long-term contracts in anticipation of the deal. National president Roy Reid said the negotiations were commercially sensitive and he was unable to name the power company involved. He hoped to make an announcement in the next few days.

Mr Reid said it was the first time Grey Power had entered negotiations of such a magnitude.

"We think it will be in the members' interests."

Ari Sargent, chief executive of power retailer Powershop, said price increases were being driven in large part by lines company charges, but this meant little to households struggling to pay their power bills.

"We're paying record prices at the pump, checkout and now for power. Energy poverty is becoming a real issue in New Zealand and there needs to be a Government-driven solution to support those families who can't make ends meet."

- Northern Advocate

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