Power firms 'at bottom' of payment food chain

People living in poorer parts of the country are putting the payment of their Sky Television account ahead of paying their electricity bill, according to Mighty River Power boss Doug Heffernan.

Speaking at a select committee yesterday, Heffernan said the industry was based on "50-year-old" technology whereby companies recovered payment for power more than 20 days after it was used.

He said that, in some lower socio-economic communities such as South Auckland, people chose to pay for Sky TV, which had to be done in advance or the service would not be provided, before their electricity bill.

"Our industry has run a credit-card system where customers have been able to put on tick electricity," he said.

"We're at the bottom end of the food chain for payment. That is really bad. I think it is irresponsible from a society point of view.

"We want to move to a position where electricity is rightly considered a more important thing to have than Sky TV."

Heffernan also spoke about being "heartily sick" of public confusion over those responsible for electricity bill increases.

He called for separate invoices to split energy charges (from generating companies such as MRP) and distribution charges (from national and local lines firms) so customers could see who was responsible for price increases.

"I am absolutely up to the gills in it which is why I am saying separate the bloody bills. I can't cause that to happen, only policy can do that."

MRP last increased its energy prices in April 2013. It has committed not to up its standard open tariff until at least April next year.

MRP chairwoman Joan Withers had earlier spoken about the impact the Labour-Greens New Zealand Power proposal had on the company's share price. The price had fallen by nearly 20 per cent since the Crown sold 49 per cent of the company, which was dual-listed on the NZX and ASX.

"There is no doubt the dominant impact by far has been the uncertainty around the New Zealand Power proposal which was announced in April . . . just weeks before our float," she said. "There was not a lot of time for analysts to conduct the appropriate level of analysis needed, or for the market to gain a really comprehensive understanding of the potential value impact of that policy."

Over the ensuing months, analysts were able to better evaluate the possible impact should a Labour-led government win the election, she said.