Meridian gives customers shock

Poll: Electricity prices are rising 15 per cent for 500 southern customers, sparking a warning some may cut back on food and other essentials so they can keep warm this winter.

Meridian Energy has sent a letter to 500 of its customers in the Invercargill area telling them they face a 15 per cent electricity price hike from April 1.

Spokeswoman Michelle Brooker said this was because those customers were on old or incorrect pricing plans and their new charges would fall in line with the pricing plans of other Meridian customers in the area.

Meridian has more than 6300 customers in the Gore, Southland, Invercargill, Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes areas, with the overall average electricity price increase for those customers to be 2 per cent, she said.

Other electricity providers contacted this week also signalled price increases were imminent.

Invercargill's Jubilee Budget Advisory Service manager Simon Tierney said southerners paid more in electricity than other parts of the country because of the colder climate, but they generally didn't skimp on heating when energy costs rose.

They instead cut back on other essentials.

"Turning off the heater down here isn't going to happen," he said.

"Down here more goes to electricity and less goes to food and fuel and school fees."

He urged southerners to shop around for cheaper power prices, conserve electricity at home and take advantage of discounts companies offered to customers who paid their bills before the due date and had bills sent to them by email.

Contact Energy, which has 29,000 residential customers in the same five districts, was increasing its power prices by an average of 2.6 per cent, spokeswoman Rachel Day said.

Genesis Energy spokesman Richard Gordon said its 20,000 customers in the southern region could expect price rises in the future, but they would be told before the media.

Trustpower spokesman Graeme Purches said in February it announced 4.74 per cent price rises for most of its 6200 Southland customers and 4.38 per cent price rises for most of its 4100 Invercargill customers.

It has no price hikes planned for the Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes areas at this stage, he said.

The electricity companies said the increases were largely because of the increased costs they faced from lines companies.

Electricity Invercargill Ltd's lines charges are increasing from April, with the company saying it was necessary because of increased charges from Transpower which was needed for infrastructure investment and to ensure capacity and security of supply.

The Electricity Authority, which monitors competition in the market, said it would investigate why prices were rising.

evan.harding@stl.co.nz

The Southland Times