Electricity newcomer Flick says it will bring down your bill

Slashing hundreds of dollars off your annual power bill could just be a "Flick" of a switch away.

Wellington company Flick is one of seven electricity retailers to enter the ultra-competitive energy market in the past year. It describes itself as "the first retailer to give New Zealanders access to the wholesale price of power direct from the market the big guys buy electricity from".

Since launching last year it has spread up the North Island, including to Auckland in recent weeks.

Flick charges spot prices for power, which can be as low as 4c or less a kilowatt hour (kWh), plus a fixed daily distribution charge of 40c a day and 1.5c kWh for standard users. Aucklanders also face a distribution charge of 6.3c a kWh.

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Major power distributors mostly charge a flat fee of 22-26c a KWh, plus a fixed charge of up to $2.20 a day, although some offer off-peak specials from 11.5-17.42c a kWh.

Flick's costs change half hourly and are cheapest at non-peak times. Chief executive Steve O'Connor said changes in power use could lead to "pretty substantial" savings.

"If you know you go home, cook a meal, fill up the dishwasher and usually put it on at 7pm [when the price is higher] you might instead wait until you go to bed to put it on when power is cheaper," he said.

Flick has 800 customers but is looking to broaden its reach.

It offers customers online tools to monitor price rates throughout the day and customers are billed weekly.

O'Connor said it was fair and transparent for consumers, who do not have to sign fixed-term contracts.

The company website says: "We believe customers should have complete control of how they buy electricity and from whom ... so if Flick isn't right for you it's easy to leave at any time."

Electricity industry commentator Geoff Bertram said Flick was good news for consumers. "Retailers' mark-ups are obscene." But clients should be aware the rates they pay could rise dramatically if wholesale electricity prices spiked.

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"Another couple of dry months could be bad for wholesale prices. They might only go from 2c or 3c per kWh to 8c or 10c, but still it makes a big difference to your bill," Bertram said.

O'Connor said Flick customers didn't have the insurance against big fluctuations, but "because there are more lows than highs, our customers still win over time".

Consumer New Zealand chief executive Sue Chetwin said the risk of power bill blow-outs to Flick consumers was quite low, but emphasised they have to be prepared if something does go wrong.

"But they can probably switch to another company without too much damage if they need to."

Major companies surveyed by the Herald on Sunday this week had no intention of changing their models in response to Flick's new approach.

Genesis Energy spokesman Richard Gordon said: "It would be like Countdown responding directly to a specialist cheese shop opening up [down] the road."

Figures released by the Electricity Authority show the four largest retailers - Contact, Genesis, Mighty River and Meridian - lost market share last year. Medium-sized retailers gained 40,000 customers.

The authority offers a free service, whatsmynumber.org.nz, which allows consumers to compare and swap providers.

With the onset of frosty mornings not far away, power usage will surge for many Kiwis.

But for some bright sparks, Flick may provide a way to avoid nasty shocks when the power bill arrives.

Users with a bit of flex get better value

The average Kiwi household's bills range from $2,100 to $2,275. Photo / Thinkstock
The average Kiwi household's bills range from $2,100 to $2,275. Photo / Thinkstock