Power bills 'delicate subject'

Pensioners and young families in Otago are struggling to settle their power bills, social services staff say.

Grey Power Central Otago secretary Jacqueline Goyen, of Alexandra, said many pensioners in Central Otago had a monthly power bill of more than $600 in winter.

''We shouldn't be paying that kind of price.''

The bills sent by big electricity companies was a ''delicate subject'' with many Central Otago pensioners, Mrs Goyen said.

''I think all the companies that have to pay shareholders are mean and greedy.''

Big power company executives should be embarrassed at large profits when pensioners were struggling to keep warm.

Smaller power companies providing a ''no-frills'' service, such as Grey Power Electricity, were evolving to try to compete with the bigger companies, she said.

Anglican Family Care director Nicola Taylor, of Dunedin, said many people using the budgeting service were families with young children and struggled to pay the power bill.

By keeping children warm, the family faced ''massive'' electricity bills, which resulted in the family ''falling behind'' financially and struggling to settle their bill.

''Then the problems really start to compound,'' Mrs Taylor said.

If a power bill had quickly put a person in debt, they should seek good budgeting advice immediately, before the power supply was disconnected, Mrs Taylor said.

''There's very little negotiating with power companies, or any discretion.''


Nationalise which bit?

Ok, seems like we're going to disagree on how to get your costs down - they sound as low as they will ever go. Congratulations. So, nationalise which bit? There are a handful of power generator compaines throughout the country, there is one distributor per region responsible for maintaining the lines in that region, there are dozens of power retailers (many interlinked, ie Glowbug is part of Mercury Energy).

So, which do you wish to nationalise? The retailers were brought in for so-called competition. This group really has no reason to exist as all they do is send out bills (hmm, thats a lot of workers out of a job, a lot of shareholders now upset that their shares a worthless). Again, check the Aurora website for how little you would pay if they could charge Joe/Jane Public direct.

Shall we get rid of the distributors - well, who then is going to maintain the lines (fixing storm damage, upgrading as required, normal wear and tear). It's a bit foolish to have more than one distributor responsible for the lines per region - doubling up of machinery, duties, etc. So that won't save money as someone has to do that work.

Shall we nationalise the power generators? Okay there I agree. Since 1999 (I think that was when Max Bradford deregulated the industry) some power generators are now profit based companies (though Transpower is govt owned) with no political mandate to develop new power generation - why would you, as you earn more from restricted supply: more supply merely lowers your per unit price and thus your profit. So how to nationalise, well taking them off the companies is theft on a grand scale, we put people in prison for theft. We'd be known as a banana republic internationally if we did that (you think interest rates and the dollar are high now, wait for the blowback on the country if we just stole them!). Buying them, well why not, they are a valuable asset afterall - oh hang on Joe/Jane Public might get a bit upset that their taxes are going to buy what they used to own. Hmm, not a good policitcal move that. But the current owners want a return, so its only fair to pay for it, yes?

So yes let's get rid off all the retailers as there is no reason for them (pity any people who work for them as now they are unemployed, but they can retrain as waiters or something), buy back the power generators....umm, with what? The country isn't exactly rolling in $ - too many people seeking handouts from the government, not enough taxpayers to pay for it all.

I know what to look for

I'm already on the low user rate, I already compare prices, My flat is very well insulated, the heatpump doesn't use any more than expected when comparing manufactures spec and all the efficiencies comparison I could find, got a new hot water cylinder, my place isn't draughty - as far as warmth goes it's almost perfect.

I know the comparisons and what to look for.

As long as electrical companies are profit driven, unregulated and have too many people clipping the ticket we will continue to be charged far too much for power.

For the people on minimal fixed incomes it's even worse as there is verry little assistance for high power prices.

But you missed the point again I'm not really complaining about myself - but if it's tough for me then it's a lot tougher for most people out there and you solution is for them to be cold and save money the don't have, and then suffering cold related problems while waiting.

Most of the companies use resources that don't cost them anything, use mostly taxpayer funded infrastructure, then charge the earth for it.

Most of the elderly out there have worked hard and paid taxes all their life, the least they deserve is to be able to be warm, yet you see stories almost weekly about how elderly can't afford their bills.

Power prices are too high and we should nationalise the whole industry and place it back under direct govt control like it used to be. [abridged]

I'll try again shall I?

You seem like a low power user, make sure that you are being rewarded for that. Check that the fuse at your meter board is an 8kva one, not a 15kva or 24kva (standard domestic). You can have the fuse changed out for the lower 8kva one (it will cost) BUT - it means you pay $15 per year rather than the $54 per year for the "fixed distributor line charges" - check the Aurora website (the distributor down here) they publish all their charges on their website for all to see.  Now at this stage your retailer wants their $ cut for doing nothing but sending you a bill each month. They will add their $ amount on those fixed line charges merely for that privilege, they also will charge you per unit used (again the Aurora website shows details as to what they as the distributor charge the retailers).

All the retailers do is take a cut for doing nothing - anyone can set themselves up as a retailer charging Joe/Jane Public for the privilege of receiving a bill - there is no real purpose to a retailer's existence than to take money for doing nothing. There are a handful that have bought power generators (ie have bought windturbines, gas turbines, dams etc), these are trying to justify their existence - but in reality all retailers do is charge you for sending you a bill that the distributor could easily do (and it would be more accurate as to exactly how much you use each month, rather than estimates - oh and a retailer can estimate your use however they like: company a bit broke that month increase the estimate that Joe/Jane Public has to pay).

So, contact your retailer (or check your latest bill) and ask to be put to the low-user amount per unit used. Retailers use different terms/names which all mean the same thing - you don't use much power and get rewarded for it. Also shop around, it's amazing how many people do not switch retailers - it isn't difficult as the distributor keeps track of who is with who and when the change was made. There are websites out there showing how much you will pay for being with each retailer. Remember they all get charged the same amount from the distributor - they just vary in how much $ profit they then milk you for.

Second, it sounds like you have the heatpump? If so make sure that it has been serviced regularly, they are inefficient otherwise. Also, cheap to run each day does not mean free to run each day - those $ amounts do add up. I would also guess that the insulation is not as good as you think it is. Check for draughts, seal them.

Really choices?

1st: "In terms of councils forcing people to put in electricity-based heating only - rubbish " . That statement itself is rubbish. Try telling that to people in Cromwell , South Canterbury etc where the only realistic options to meet emission standards are pellet fires or things like heat pumps.
2nd: In terms of my own situation , as I said before I live alone in a well-insulated home and do everything you say, yet I still have $80-150 monthly bills. Do you expect families to be in the same pricing bracket? Do you have children? If so, do you let them freeze? Kids get dirty need baths or showers, and kids and the elderly need to be kept warm due to developing and/or reduced immune systems.
Some people can't afford to do without heat while they save for insulation. I used to have a job which would allowed me to save but due to a blood clot-caused stroke I'm now on a benefit and barely able to pay my bills and feed myself. Before you ask, I don't smoke , drink , or do drugs.  Due to the blood thinners I'm on I feel the cold worse now than I ever did in the army sleeping in a tent beside the Desert Road , Waiorou. I'm just lucky I'm in a well insulated flat. Any increase in electricity prices comes out of my $50 a week grocery budget.
My point is there are a lot of people out there worse off than me, pensioners for one. You make out being cold is a choice , but being cold for some people means severe sickness or even death. Investing in warm homes has been shown by numerous studies to save $4 in heath related spending for every dollar spent. [Abridged]


You've missed the point

No guys, you've missed the point of my comments. All I'm saying is that there are a few reasons as to why power bills will be high, and that there are things you can do to lower them.

First, heating. Without adequate insulation to keep that heat in you are just wasting money each month. Its basic physics: heat rises, without insulation in your ceiling to keep it contained, heat escapes. Second, appliances. Keeping things on at the wall (i.e. TV standby) uses power. Turning them off, at the wall, saves power and hence contributes to a lower power bill. That goes for leaving lights on in rooms you're not in. Third, you mention subsidies. So, who is going to vote for increased taxes to pay for those? I already pay for people to breed - don't expect me to vote for a party that wants to increase my taxes because people don't want to insulate their houses to help lower the power bill.

In terms of councils forcing people to put in electricity-based heating only - rubbish. They want clean air burning, not smoky open fires or those damp-right-down-burn-all-night types. Yes, putting in a clean air type will cost more than electricity-based heating, but they are available. We did it 4 years ago and we didn't go looking for society to pay the $7000 bill either as it was our choice. We did an old fashioned thing and saved for it - strange I know, in this day and age of instant-gratification-pay-for-me-to-exist societal belief. We also knew that the ongoing running costs of heatpumps for example was way too exhorbitant. Cheap to run does not mean free to run.

Living in a house with poor insulation is our choice, we could have utilised the subsidies schemes if we had wanted to. We didn't want to. We save by not spending it in the first place. But I suppose once you have a sense of entitlement (hence you all quoting WHO guidelines) any perceived lack is taken as a basic right not being met by society. What happened to personal responsibility for your own situation, and instead of whining about your life actually doing something about it?

Missed the point

Peeved: You missed the point entirely. Of course deregulation, privatisation and profit-making SOE's caused the problem - it's not just the middlemen. But my point was that if I , who use almost no power, live alone in a well insulated home have power bills of $80+ per month, then it's no suprise there are people out there who have much higher bills. You seemed to think high power bills are the exception rather than the rule, or due to bad management of household appliances. Sure, there are some people who fall into that category, but the majority are simply trying to keep themselves and their kids warm, have hot water etc. Even the basics cost far to much.

As for multifuel burners, most regions via their councils are progressively making them illegal and forcing their locals to replace them with electricty dependant alternatives like pellet fires or heatpumps at their own cost.

When people on pensions are staying in bed because they can't afford to heat their homes, when rates of cold related sickness are on the rise, when household prices continually go up but industry prices go down, and when electricity companies are making record profits (a hidden tax by SOE's,1/2 of which now goes into private pockets) we have an industry that needs to be re-nationalised because its only going to get worse.

Electricity is not a luxury, it is a necessity and needs to be treated as such. 

Perfectly fine

Oh Peeved, so many things have been "perfectly fine" through the ages.

Owning people; bloodletting; using lead as a curative agent; beating your wife; building uninsulated, single glazed, draughty houses. The list goes on.

You're right - people shouldn't be living in 25-30 degrees in winter, it's a waste of energy. But they should be able to afford to live at the WHO recommended 18 degrees. Especially since we are a first world nation (although the low quality NZ housing stock may as well be third world huts). 

But what the hey, as you say, switch it off at the wall and put on a jersey. Or two. Or three. 

Maybe after five years of no heat in winter a pensioner will be able to afford to retrofit their house with insulation that should have been there in the first place.  

Power industry reality

Lynden: Power prices went up when the government of the day allowed deregulation of the power industry. That allowed any Tom, Dick, or Gerry the right to set up as a power retailer 'buying' power off the manufacturer/distributor, putting their mark-up on, and then on-selling the higher priced power to Joe and Jane Public. You want lower power prices? Then lobby the government to get rid of the middle men taking a cut for no added value. Until that happens the cost of power per unit will not drop. 


You use it, you pay for it

Yes, we have a woodburner, it heats the house to varying degrees (20 odd in the lounge through to 12 in the bedroom when we have it going). We have no health issues. My husband, who grew up in this house, has no health issues. He can also remember as a kid it being so cold in winter that ice formed on the inside of the windows. If it was perfectly fine to grow up like that when we were young - what on earth makes people think that now you need a tropical environment (i.e. 25degC plus) to survive?

In a house there is no point installing any heating system until ceiling insulation is 'fixed'. Then progressively think underfloor, draughts around windows, wall insulation etc. Otherwise you are just attempting to heat the planet, as all that warm air rises and leaves via your ceiling and any gap it can. Anyone who complains about high power prices and still has a cold house needs to address the insulation issues first. Until they do they will be throwing good money after bad. Insulate then heat, don't heat and then wonder where all that heat goes.

In example, we had an elderly relative (living alone) who asked us to come find out why she was having $400 plus power bills each month, even in summer. We went around everything in the house (it got all day sun) looking for what might be drawing so much power. We found out she had a DVS/HRV style system in the ceiling cavity pulling dry and supposedly warm air down to circulate throughout the entire house. As her ceiling cavity was not insulated, and her house had 50/60/70s era insulation (i.e. bugger all), the unit was having to heat the air it was pumping through the house. She was basically trying to keep the inside temperature at 25-30C when the house was not physically capable of holding that temperature at all due to poor iinsulation.

When we informed her of this she refused to spend money on insulating, then insisted we do something to get her power bills lower. You can't fix one without fixing the other - something people refuse to acknowledge.


Peeved: The reality is my power bill is about the same , but I live alone, shower mostly when I'm at the physio pool , do cold washes, heat (via heatpump) 1 room to 18 degrees, don't use the range to cook at all , and barely watch TV. I only turn lights on when cooking or have visitors. Unless I'm cooking via either a mivrowave or a small portable oven pretty much the only electrical devices i use are ny computer, and occasionally the TV and heatpump as mentioned. 

My flat is fairly compact and well insulated. Yet my power bill is min $80 using power deals available through Powershop (summer) and as much as double that in winter. I can easily see how a multiple person home - especially families or elderly people - can end up with high power bills. Power is a neccesity, not a luxury, and should be highly regulated and priced to reflect cost of production and infrastructure not profits. I would even go as far as to say elderly and vulnerable people (maybe every home) should have a certain amount for basic needs free. 

Over the past 15-20 years household prices have consistantly gone up but commerical prices have remained static or in some cases dropped. You me and everyone else are subsiding corporate power bills. Electricity companies have been used by the government as a form of tax by stealth in the form of a profit making govt owned business, but now thanks to National 1/2 those profits in the best performing of those are now going into private hands and not in anyway benefiting NZers


Moral high ground

Take the 'moral' high ground Peeved, but please be aware that there are many people who need more warmth in their houses than you. Is your house heated to WHO standards or are you rationing the heat alongside with the sweaters? There are many in Central Otago who have been forced to get rid of their log burners to install heat pumps that are ill equipped to warm houses in such a cold area. Older people and those with young families need to have warm houses. How do you suppose they will achieve that with the limited options available? 

Power bills

If you don't want to pay $600 a month, then things off! I get really sick of people complaining about their power bills. Sorry, but if you use it, then you pay for it. It's quite simple really. If you don't want a high bill, then gee whizz, its quite simple: turn lights off in rooms you aren't in, and turn appliances off at the wall. Also, why waste money heating the world when you can spend it on upgrading your insulation and lowering your future power bills?

Our power bill is between $80 (summer) and $120 (the most its ever been in winter) per month - we don't have solar, we have a under-insulated house (it's an old house with basically no insulation), our old 70s hot water cylinder has never been lagged nor have any pipes, we only have lights on in the rooms we're in, appliances are turned off at the wall if not in use. The dryer is used only occasionally, and we wear clothes appropriate for winter...we have no problem keeping our power use low.

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