Over the years I’ve regularly been assigned to find out how Kiwis feel about topical issues. That’s involved going out and asking people for their opinions on everything from sending NZ troops overseas to what presents to buy for Christmas. Getting someone to share their thoughts for publication is never easy. Asking them to do it on camera can be a deal breaker.
So, when we hit the streets of Auckland in late July to find out what people thought about NZ power prices, I was prepared for a long haul. It turned out there was nothing to worry about. Nearly everyone we spoke to wanted to talk about their power bills. On average they were paying about $200 a month during winter. There were a few around $300. The highest was $600!
Most were concerned by how much it was costing to power their homes and didn’t have much time for the big power companies. We recorded an hour’s worth of conversations which we’ve edited down to several 60 second videos with all the highlights. Here’s the first.
In retrospect, it’s not surprising that people were happy to talk to us. As we’re in the middle of winter, most people (but, not all as you’ll see further down) are using more power, so high power bills are a hot topic.
Alarmingly, for thousands of households that’s the only heat they’ll be experiencing at the coldest time of year. As Greenpeace rightly put it in this Stuff article, families are shivering in their homes while big power companies make millions off electricity.
The Salvation Army recently polled 1005 people and found 45% of them had gone without home heating in the last year due to cost. It also found that one in 10 were warming their home using just their oven or stove.
"Unfortunately conventional heating is often the first to go when money is tight," Jono Bell, a spokesperson for the Salvation Army told RNZ. "It's common for us to see families pull mattresses into the lounge and bunk down to share heat in the winter. The oven door will be open and cranked up high, these families know about the inefficiencies of using an oven to heat the home, but for some, it's the only choice they have."
A similar power price survey by Credit Simple found that 55% of Auckland households go cold in a bid to save on power bills. In Wellington, it's 52% and in Canterbury, it's 50%.
And, Consumer NZ revealed that more people are having problems paying for power than three years ago, with 25,317 homes having their power disconnected last year because of unpaid bills - an increase of more than 6000 from a year earlier.
Over the past 20 years power prices across New Zealand have increased by more than 130%. While Kiwis are already paying high prices for their power, some are paying even more because of their postcode.
In parts of Northland some families are being charged about 35% more than the national average. In Otago, close to the country’s main hydro power plants, there are families paying up to 40% more. As one of the people we spoke to said, “you’d think there would be a level playing field”.
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