Energy poverty is already starting to plague New Zealand’s coldest district. Photo / 123rf

By Tim Brown, RNZ

Energy poverty is already starting to be felt in Central Otago, New Zealand’s coldest district.

Aurora Energy – the local power grid company – increased its annual line charge by more than $ 100 per year for the average household in central Otago and Wānaka earlier this year.

But that was only a fraction of what they would be faced with over the next few years.

Aurora’s network was failing for customers and unsafe for the staff working there, due to historical mismanagement and underinvestment.

The company has changed dramatically since these issues were highlighted in 2016 and says they have a plan to get things back on track.

But the cost of this plan for Central Otago residents would be an additional $ 380 to $ 875 in annual line fees by 2026 compared to last year’s prices.

In a neighborhood that can suffer 150 frosts per year, it stings.

Central Otago’s Budget Services Coordinator Pam Hughes said for some on the bread line it was difficult to get by.

“I’ve worked with a few elderly clients who don’t turn on their heat sources and stay in bed to warm up, which is a concern,” she said.

“Lately we’ve had frosts of -6C, -7C with gray days, so you don’t have natural sunlight.

“I had an 84 year old lady and she comes to town every other day and she’s going to shower at the local pool and wherever she can she’ll charge her phone. ‘it is used as a heating medium.

“She uses an illegal gas heater, which is not ventilated, to heat her house, but she doesn’t do it very often.”

There were currently a lot of budget pressures on low-income people in central Otago and any increase in monthly spending was hard to bear, especially for fixed-income retirees, Hughes said.

“People have to make sure they have enough clothes [to stay warm in their homes], well, some of them don’t have warm clothes to rely on. You have the induced effects of not being able to heat your house, or your house is not properly insulated … and all of this has an impact on different things like your health and well-being, high electricity costs, the possibility of buying food or the lack of. “

The mayor of Central Otago, Tim Cadogan, unsuccessfully asked Aurora Energy and the Electricity Authority to spread the cost of the grid upgrade more evenly across the grid.

Dunedin City Council owned Aurora, which also supplied electricity to Dunedin and Queenstown, although line charges are already lower in those areas and would increase less.

Cadogan said he didn’t think his calls would change anything in the next four years.

“Our last hope was that the Electricity Authority would impose it on Aurora. Aurora has always maintained that the costs fall where they are and the argument they always had is that we have fewer people per. kilometer of wire, so it costs more for each person, ”he said.

“I argued fiercely with the Electricity Authority that in the interests of fairness, especially when another territorial authority owned the business, that it should be equalized. Sadly and unfortunately… has been lost and there is nothing more to say. “

He agreed that the anticipated increases in line charges would come true, so other mechanisms were needed to help vulnerable residents warm their homes as the winter energy payment was not enough.

The government needed to do more to ensure low-income people have warm, healthy homes, Cadogan said.

He was following with interest the discussions on reform of the electricity sector.


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This notice was published: 2021-07-24 19:52:36


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