Electricity demand has decreased in Otago and Southland while
residential electricity prices have been rising.
As a result, elderly people are having to choose whether to
their money on their health or their power bill, Grey Power
Central Otago secretary Jacqueline Goyen says.
The latest New Zealand Energy Quarterly revealed that
the demand for electricity in Otago and Southland fell 5% for
the year ending June.
Yet a recent Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment
(MBIE) report showed that nationally residential electricity
prices had increased by 3% in the past year, more than four
times the rate of inflation.
The most expensive electricity price region was South Otago,
the report said.
Mrs Goyen said many pensioners were adapting their lifestyles
to work around high electricity costs.
''They go to bed early and they walk around [inside] with
their coats on so they don't have to have the heat up too
high. It is a problem and it does need to be faced up to.''
The colder housing meant more pensioners visited the doctor
with chest infections, such as pneumonia.
Some adaptions by the elderly were compromising their health.
Electricity costs accounted for a large ''chunk'' of a
pensioner's income and many could afford to eat only cheap
and unhealthy food.
''At times, it can mean you choose between the good food and
the not so good food.''
Greater financial pressure was put on pensioners when the
Otago Regional Council banned traditional woodburners and
promoted the installation of heat pumps.
The Government should provide cheaper electricity to
pensioners, she said.
''It would help; it would really help.''
The Electricity Authority chief executive Carl Hansen said
although the report revealed an increase in residential
electricity prices, the rise was smaller than past increases.
The smaller increase could be a result of weaker demand for
electricity, he said.
Otago had some of the most expensive electricity retail
prices in New Zealand because of the costs associated with
distributing it to a sparse population, he said.
''You've got a much thinner population down there so the cost
of distribution may be higher per user.''
MBIE infrastructure and resource markets group acting manager
Bryan Field said although many people were struggling to pay
their power bill, the drop in demand was from commercial
usage, rather than residential.
''[The demand decrease] is Tiwai Point [aluminium smelter]
through and through in Otago and Southland and the scaling
down of their production is effectively the 5%.''
Labour leader David Cunliffe said about 19,245 households had
their power disconnected in the first half of 2013 because
they could not afford to pay their electricity bills.
''It is tragic that people in New Zealand are forced to go to
bed early to avoid putting their heaters on.''
A Labour government would bring down power prices and people
would not have to choose between their health and their power
bill, he said.