Tūrangi-based power consumer advocate Sandra Greenslade is praising the local lines company's decision to wipe all variable charges for its 13,000 residential customers during April.

The decision by The Lines Company, which is not an electricity retailer but operates the lines network in the King Country, to waive the variable charges is in response to the pressure being placed on families because of the Covid-19 lockdown.

The Lines Company area is unusual in that consumers receive a separate lines bill for their electricity use, as well as a power bill from their power retailer. In most areas, lines charges are included in power retailers' bills.

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The Lines Company chief executive Sean Horgan said the move would save most households between $60 and $100 over the month – possibly more, given many people were now in lockdown at home.

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"This is something we can do, fast, to help. It means our customers won't need to be as concerned about energy bills, especially when many whānau will have extras living at home.

"Customers will know exactly what their Lines Company bill will be and having some certainty in this uncertain time is pretty important. Our hope is that it'll be one less thing for people to worry about. This is our way of supporting our communities when they need it the most."

Sandra Greenslade, who is a trustee on the King Country Electric Power Trust, said she was thrilled by the decision of the Lines Company board and said it would make a big difference to local families.

Sandra Greenslade Photo / File
Sandra Greenslade Photo / File

"The thing about this is that people will know exactly how much their lines bill is going to be for April. Whatever you use for electricity in the house isn't going to be charged. The power will still be charged from your retailer but The Lines Company won't charge you for what goes through their lines."

The variable lines charge is based on the amount of electricity used by a consumer in a given month. Normally, The Lines Company variable charge changes depending on what time of day the electricity is being used. But during April the variable charges will be waived completely and only the fixed charges will apply. The fixed charge depends on where the consumer lives and whether they are rural, high density or low density.

Mrs Greenslade said for her Tūrangi property - which is a residential high-density controlled property - the fixed daily charge amounted to around $15 per month. She hoped that, if the lockdown continued, the company would consider keeping the waiver in place.

"People around here are losing their jobs left, right and centre. I think they are one of the first lines companies in New Zealand to step up and do this and I'm so proud of them."

Mrs Greenslade was formerly a fierce critic of The Lines Company for its controversial peak use charging system but that system was scrapped in 2018 and she said it had made a real effort to improve its customer relations.

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"You think of the reputation they had more than three years ago to the people that they are today, immediately recognising that their community was going to be hard hit overnight and for them to step up and do something so quickly."

The Lines Company chairman Mark Darrow said the decision made this week by the company's board and supported its community trust, the Waitomo Energy Services Customer Trust, would save its customers up to $1 million for the month.

"It is a substantial gesture, but we need to recognise the community hardship created by the pandemic.

"This is something that can help and we can action fast."

The Lines Company covers the King Country area. Photo / File
The Lines Company covers the King Country area. Photo / File

The company has also reassured its older consumers fretting about paying their bills during the lockdown that they won't be penalised.

Some of its customers, particularly older customers, still prefer to pay their bills in person or via their bank but cannot because of the lockdown.

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Mr Horgan urged those who were worried to get in touch and said people would not be penalised for not being able to pay their bill in person. He urged people not to send cash in the mail.

"We really don't want people worrying about this at the moment. So if you're struggling please get in touch and we can help you over the phone," he said.

Mrs Greenslade challenged fellow lines company Unison, which operates in the north of the Taupō district as well as Hawke's Bay and Rotorua, to do something similar.

Earlier this week Unison announced a 10 percent decrease in network lines changes. That means a customer in Taupō who uses 8000 kWh with controlled hot water heating would get a reduction of $124 per year, or around $10 per month.

"Unison need to step up," Mrs Greenslade said. "If The Lines Company can do it, anyone can, because they've got the lowest number of customers and the largest network in the country. Ten per cent is nothing compared to what people are going through in their homes."