13 Mar 2014

Disconnection warning to companies

7:32 am on 13 March 2014

Energy Minister Simon Bridges has warned electricity companies he will act if they do not stop disconnecting the power to vulnerable consumers.

Last year, 41,000 people had their power cut off, a figure that prompted Mr Bridges to write to electricity companies and ask the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to investigate.

Simon Bridges.

Simon Bridges. Photo: RNZ

The ministry advised companies should be able to avoid disconnections by using proper credit control processes.

Mr Bridges says for the moment he accepts advice from officials that the electricity market is working to ensure people remain connected. But says he's not letting power companies off the hook and and will take action if things don't improve.

"I expect them to be proactive and to be responsible, and also making clear that if they're not, it is something I would look to do more on, including at one end of the spectrum the regulatory tools that I might have."

Labour says relying on companies to follow voluntary guidelines is no longer good enough. Dunedin South MP Clare Curran says last year she helped a family which had its power cut despite the mother being terminally ill and on a respirator, and in another case a family with a bottle fed baby also had the power cut.

The party's energy spokesperson, David Shearer, says there has been a record number of disconnections and it is simply not enough for Mr Bridges to say he will keep an eye on the situation.

"There have been more disconnections in the third quarter last year than any other time in the history of records being kept, and last year's number of disconnections was going up."

State-owned Genesis Energy, which is being put up for partial sale, is the worst offender when it comes to disconnecting its customers.

Chief executive Albert Brantley says his company is concerned at the statistics and looking at what it can do about them. "For us that disconnect is an action of very last resort and we've been very proactively trying to develop new ways to avoid disconnection as an activity."