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More price rises for Aurora Energy customers have been signalled, a situation that has left some Dunedin residents worried about how they will pay the bills.
The Dunedin City Council-owned company this week revealed a three-year, $400million programme to tackle ageing electricity infrastructure in Dunedin, Central Otago and Queenstown.
To pay for that project, it was asking industry regulator the Commerce Commission for a customised price path that would allow it to hike line charges by up to $21 a month in 2022, followed by up to $10 a month in 2023 and 2024.
The price increases may not end there.
Prices are also likely to rise before the three-year programme begins, if the commission confirms its draft default price-quality path.
That sets maximum prices and minimum reliability quality standards for regulated lines companies over the next five years.
It proposed allowing Aurora an 8.9% increase, relative to the Consumer Price Index, in allowed revenue.
That would allow Aurora to increase its line charges.
While Aurora was applying for a customised price path, that would not take effect until April 1, 2021.
That meant the default price path would apply for the 2020-21 year.
Aurora chief executive Richard Fletcher said any price increases following 2024 would be ''more modest'', and there would be no further ''big step'' changes to keep pace with renewals.
That is little comfort for some Dunedin residents, who say they are already struggling to pay their power bills.
Codie Thompson-Sumner, of Corstorphine, said the proposed increases were ''pretty ridiculous''.
She was on a benefit, and said after paying rent and bills each week, ''I don't have 50c to my name after everything's paid''.
She said she would likely be unable to afford birthday and Christmas presents for her young son if her expenses increased further.
South Dunedin woman Lorraine McHoull called the increases ''disgusting''.
''It will have a big impact on me,'' she said.
''We put blankets over our knees now to conserve power.''
Mrs McHoull, who has cancer and is on a sickness benefit, said she was going to have to cut down on power use, including the use of her electric wheelchair.
''It's going to be a huge jolt in my budget.''
Dr Fletcher said Aurora acknowledged the price rises required to fund the infrastructure work would be difficult for some customers.
''The investment we have set out in our consultation is needed and the alternative to raising prices is a continued deterioration in the safety and the reliability of the network which would be unacceptable.''
Aurora would work with community agencies and retailers to ''minimise the impact of our cost increases where possible and educate on energy options''.
Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult has been highly critical of the price increases, saying they were unacceptable.
He also pointed out that the Dunedin City Council had received a ''significant amount of profit'' from the company in the past, and should therefore make a ''capital contribution'' to Aurora to help address the infrastructure issues.
His Dunedin counterpart Aaron Hawkins would not be drawn on whether the council should pay.
On Tuesday he said it was a more sudden change than it could have been, but it was important to note line charges would have increased whenever the work had happened.