Council submission likely on lines charges

Tim Cadogan
Tim Cadogan
Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan says his council will discuss making a submission on Aurora Energy's proposed price increases, following news his district will have the highest increases in Otago.

The Central Otago-Wanaka district faces increases of 23% on an average annual power bill between 2021 and 2024, under Aurora's proposed lines price increases, compared to 16% increases in Dunedin and Queenstown.

Mr Cadogan said the issue still needed to be debated by the Central Otago District Council, but he thought it likely the disparity would be "one of the things" on which the council would make a submission to the Commerce Commission.

Aurora is seeking a customised price path (CPP) allowing the increases, which need to be approved by the Commerce Commission as Aurora has a monopoly over lines supply in Otago.

Mr Cadogan said following the "reprehensible" position Aurora had "got itself into" by a historic lack of investment which led to the degradation of its lines network, it was "completely unfair" consumers now had to pay to rebuild the network.

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult has already spoken up, saying his council will oppose the proposed increases and be pushing the Dunedin City Council (DCC) to help fund the regeneration of Aurora's lines network. Aurora is wholly owned by the DCC.

Vincent Community Board member Russell Garbutt brought concerns about the condition and management of Aurora's network before the board earlier this year and the board then voted to take them to the council.

A delegation of Aurora representatives then met both board and council members. Aurora chief executive Dr Richard Fletcher acknowledged a history of underspending by the company was what caused the aged and deteriorating network throughout Central Otago and wider Otago, and that an increase in lines charges was now likely to be needed to pay for reinvestment.

Mr Garbutt, who spoke yesterday in a personal capacity, not as a board member, said he still regularly received comments from members of the public congratulating him on bringing the issue before elected members and the public.

He said the proposed price increases were "totally unfair and morally and ethically unsupportable", considering the under-investment from Aurora was what had created the situation.

"Overriding all of this is the inherent unfairness of basically paying somebody to supply us with goods and services and they haven't done that, and then them [Aurora] saying at the end `oh we're going to have to charge you more because we haven't done what we should have done'."

"This area [Central Otago] has been subject to a huge amount of infrastructure failures of its poles and lines over the last two to three years, and the local community deserve a great deal of sympathy and support from Aurora, rather than resorting to some economic excuse not to provide up to date services."

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