Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods applauds Māori power company Nau Mai Rā for “championing power poverty”.
“No one wants to see vulnerable New Zealanders struggle with their power bills."
But, while she's agreed to look at one element of a petition the company is circulating on power poverty, she doesn't support its main aim.
The power retailer says it can only afford to support 1,000 customers but has 10,000 more waiting to join.
So Nau Mai Rā co-founder Ezra Hirawani launched a petition asking for immediate government action to force down wholesale electricity prices – because he says while his firm is an energy retailer that supports vulnerable communities, it is not getting fair and affordable wholesale prices from electricity generators, which means it can't expand.
He said the petition was about the government, energy generators and energy retailers "working together for whānau in the spirit of manaakitanga.”
Residential power prices have soared by 48 per cent in two decades, which is up faster than most other OECD countries.
Māori will also be disproportionately affected in the long run according to the Interim Climate Change Committee, which says the government’s target to reach a carbon-neutral goal by 2050 will not benefit tangata whenua as power prices are predicted to go through the roof.
Consumer NZ has indicated 17 percent of New Zealanders are still having trouble paying their power bills.
“The government voiced its commitment to reduce the socio-economic gap between Māori and Pākehā with its Māori manifesto last year," Hirawani said."Now we’re presenting an opportunity to make real change where it’s needed.”
Meanwhile, Manurewa resident Pane Croft and her whanau couldn’t wait to join Nau Mai Rā after paying $200-300 a month for their power bill, she says. Now, the family's bills have been cut in half – and her last bill was for $100 for a household of five in Auckland in winter.
“When I signed up with Nau Mai Ra the power company I was with contacted me and offered me a $500 power credit to stay with them,” Croft says.
Minister Woods said she was very conscious of the high electricity wholesale prices that New Zealand was experiencing, and had questioned whether they needed to be as high.
"This is why I have asked officials for advice on wholesale pricing and whether the current level of wholesale prices is commensurate with the level of scarcity in the market.
She said the Electricity Authority had a work programme underway to improve the wholesale market’s performance. "Part of that work includes a number of initiatives to strengthen completion and improve confidence in the wholesale market. This includes improving the availability of wholesale market information, introducing market making obligations and improving information about the financial performance of generator retailers. I am not asking officials to duplicate that work."
However, she did concede that Nau Mai Rā's petition request to nominate a "last resort" energy retailer that ensures no customer is turned away was something her Energy Hardship Expert Panel could look at once it is set up.
She also listed her other plans for power poverty:
- An advisory group - the Energy Hardship Expert Panel - will be formed to provide advice on policy priorities to alleviate power hardship
- An agreed definition and indicators of energy hardship is being developed to assist with measuring and tracking energy hardship over time. This will also assist with identifying those in energy hardship and assessing the effectiveness of initiatives to address energy hardship.
- Funding round opened this week for Support for Energy Education in Communities programme that funds advisors to teach how to reduce power bills and supply LED lights, timing switches, and sensors.
- Create warm, healthy and energy-efficient homes via the Māori and Public Housing Renewable Energy Fund ($28 million which is being allocated through funding rounds until 2024). Over 200 homes will benefit from these projects, including homes of kaumātua and kuia, low-income whānau and those in iwi-owned rentals.
- The Winter Energy Payment, which gives up to $750 a year to people to help heat their homes