Mike Munro, acting chief executive of the Electricity Retailers' Association, doesn't need telling that Covid-19's impact on communities is far-reaching.
With more people at home, especially through winter, for some that included an impact on their power bill, and the risk of increased debt.
"All Kiwis should live in warm, dry homes with affordable energy costs. No family should have to choose between putting food on the table or turning their heater on," Munro said.
"That's why in Kaitaia the electricity sector is trialling EnergyMate, a free in-home energy coaching service that is helping 100 families at high risk of energy hardship, families that are struggling to pay the power bill and keep their home warm."
EnergyMate was being delivered by community-based financial mentors from the Kaitaia Family Budgeting Service, and sponsored by local lines company Top Energy, alongside power companies and other lines companies across New Zealand.
During an in-home visit, EnergyMate coaches connect the household with their power company to ensure they're on the most cost-effective power plan and payment terms, and that take into account their wider circumstances. They also refer whānau to other social services as needed, providing housing or budgeting support.
Coaches also give advice on heating the home cheaply and on using appliances efficiently, check hot water and shower flow, and deliver free LED lightbulbs for instant power savings.
"Combined, these steps can help a household make significant savings," Munro said.
"Some can save hundreds of dollars a year getting on a power plan better suited to them, or by implementing simple energy-saving tips, and those savings can then be put towards the things that matter most, like having a warm, dry, healthy home."
Kaitaia Family Budgeting Service manager Raewyn Flay said EnergyMate was supporting Far North households that needed the most support.
"Because of the lack of housing options in the Far North, we see whānau who are renting low-quality housing. They have low incomes but high rental payments despite the quality of the home," she said.
"Tenants don't want to rattle the cage in fear of eviction, so these families are living in cold, damp housing situations."
Coach Tania Sneddon said every whānau said they had gained valuable information from their EnergyMate visit.
"The concepts are easy to understand, and the actual process of the visit and working with whānau on the programme has been incredibly rewarding," she said.
Top Energy chief executive Russell Shaw was right behind the initiative, saying it made "absolute sense" for the electricity industry and the community to work together.
"As a 100 per cent community-owned company, Top Energy is committed to initiatives that can educate and help alleviate the burden of electricity costs," he said.
"Budgeting services work on the front line. They see the day to day reality that many families face in struggling to make ends meet. We see our involvement as a partnership, supporting simple and effective strategies to reach some of the more vulnerable members of our community. We want to ensure they know they have choices and options to save on their power bills."
Meanwhile Munro said the same advice the coaches were giving to the families they visit could be used by any household to save on power costs.
"Turn off your appliances at the wall when you're not using them instead of leaving them on standby. That can save $100 a year," he said.
"Only boil as much water as you need. You can save $30 a year by halving how much water you boil, and a family of four can save $450 a year by reducing their daily showers by five minutes."
Go to energymate.nz for more information.