Nelson woman faces hefty power bill

Kelly Stewart of Nelson with a $821.85 power bill from Contact Energy. Stewart says she won't be using her heater till ...
Martin de Ruyter

Kelly Stewart of Nelson with a $821.85 power bill from Contact Energy. Stewart says she won't be using her heater till the power bill has been paid off.

A Nelson beneficiary was shocked to receive a monthly power bill for more than $800 for her two bedroom house despite her efforts to use less power. 

Since Kelly Stewart posted about her situation on the Nelson Pay it Forward Facebook page on Tuesday, over 250 people have commented with some saying they had similar experiences with unexpectedly large power bills and problems after the installation of smart meters.

Stewart, who receives a sickness benefit due to ongoing health issues and also works two part time jobs is worried about how she will be able to pay the bill.

A graph showing Kelly Stewart's electricity usage over the last 16 months.
Martin de Ruyter

A graph showing Kelly Stewart's electricity usage over the last 16 months.

"I have cried for two days over this account because where the hell am I going to come up with this money?" said Stewart.

She lives in a rented house that was insulated earlier this month as part of the Warmer Healthier Homes project which meant she hadn't needed to use her heater as much.

"I'm not a power user as such, I've got that many blankets on my bed to keep it warm," said Stewart. "I'm on a benefit so I have to watch every single cent that I spend."

She has not started using any new appliances, doesn't have a heat pump, had a plumber in to check the thermostat in the hot water cylinder and is unsure of why her bill has almost doubled from one month to the next. Her power bill for the previous month was $421. 

Stewart had a smart meter installed on August 13. 

"I don't get it, the only thing I have done differently is drop my heater (turn it down)," said Stewart. 

She said power companies should be responsible for letting customers know when their usage is uncharacteristically high.

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"You know a courtesy call to say hey your power is way higher than it has ever been, is there something new in your home? Just to make people aware instead of just getting a bill like this," she said. 

But she was keen to speak up about her experience after becoming aware through the huge public response on Facebook that there were many others in who were in a similar situation. 

"Honestly it doesn't just hurt me to see what I'm getting, it hurts me more to see what everyone else is getting too," said Stewart. "This is robbery, I feel damn sorry for those low income earners, those families with solo mothers. How the hell do they do it?"

When she first called Contact Energy to query the bill she was told it showed the amount of power she had used and there was nothing that could be done about it but to pay it off. 

A customer service representative told Kelly her energy use was between 47 and 49 kWh per day and it was likely to be her heater. 

Stewart has organised for an electrician to test her appliances.

A spokeswoman for Contact Energy said they had made contact with Kelly and were working with her to find a resolution to the issues.

Stewart said she had since heard back from Contact Energy who had offered her a discount and said they would change her plan from a low user to standard which would save money  

Nelson budget service adviser Rosalie Grant said it was reasonably common for power bills to sharply increase over winter. 

"What we normally advise is for people to pay their bills weekly or to consider pre-pay power, it takes away the surprise of a big bill," she said. 

She also advised people who were faced with significantly increased power bills to contact their power provider in the first instance to arrange a pre-payment. 

Hot water tank leaks, or a lack of insulation in a home was a common cause of a significantly increased power bill during the winter, she said. 

Comments have now been closed on this story.

 - Stuff

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