22 Mar 2023

Consumers worried over affordability, reliability of electricity supply

6:35 am on 22 March 2023
Close Up Of Woman Pressing Power Switch On Electric Kettle To Save Energy At Home

The survey revealed some residents and small businesses are finding it harder to pay their power bills. Photo: 123RF

A survey for the Consumer Advocacy Council (CAC) shows most consumers are concerned that in the future the electricity industry will not provide a reliable supply they can afford.

The Electricity Consumer Sentiment Survey by Kantar Public surveyed 1026 residential consumers and 500 small businesses between 25 November and 20 December last year.

It was the first in-depth poll of these consumer groups.

Despite being conducted before Cyclone Gabrielle, the survey showed almost two-thirds of respondents were already concerned the country's electricity system would not be resilient to extreme weather events.

While 72 percent of respondents were satisfied with their current provider, 69 percent of residential consumers and 57 percent of businesses surveyed believed electricity would become unaffordable for some people within the next 10 years.

The report showed 42 percent of residents and 28 percent of small businesses found it harder to pay electricity bills than a year ago, and one in 10 reported having experienced payment pressure such as making special payment arrangements or borrowing money to pay a bill.

CAC's chairperson Deborah Hart said Cyclone Gabrielle had shown an urgent need for the industry to invest in strengthening the resilience of the network as climate change resulted in more extreme weather.

But, at the same time, it needed to keep power bills affordable.

"We're in a time of great change as we deal with threats to the network from climate change storm events, and the need to reduce emissions to achieve 100 percent renewable generation," she said.

Hart said the investments should not come as a cost to consumers.

"Building resilience can't come at the cost of ensuring electricity remains affordable, particularly now with pressure on household budgets," she said.

Hart said consumers - who were the ones funding the industry - needed to be at the front and centre when policy makers and industry players were making decisions on the future of the electricity system.

Lines companies expect to spend billions

Meanwhile, the Electricity Networks Association said lines companies would spend billions of dollars to make sure power networks were reliable.

ENA's chief executive Graeme Peters said an assessment after Cyclone Gabrielle showed an extra $2.1 billion was needed to build resilience in the network, on top of spending on decarbonisation and new customer technologies.

But he added that it would be a balancing act for companies.

"In coming up with those numbers, we immediately are thinking, well, under the law we have to pass those costs onto consumers, so that's something we have to weigh up."

Photo Picture of the Classic Electricity Pylon Pole

File pic Photo: 123RF

Peters said the investments might lead to higher power prices in the short term.

However, investigations by the association last year showed that while households were expected to spend more money on electricity in the coming years, they would be spending less on other sources of energy such as gas and petrol in the longer term.

He said by 2030, the total household spending on energy would be falling.

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