King Country locals give up the basics to manage the cost of power

For the last 18 months, Taumarunui resident Sona Selwyn has been living without power after his lines were physically cut off by the local lines company TLC

"I disputed their lines bill of $200-$300 and said I wouldn't pay it, so they said they'd cut it off."

His story isn't unique. A decade ago New Zealanders hadn't heard of 'energy hardship'. But a new Government report released shows more than 100,000 households are now experiencing it, and paying more than 10 percent of their income on electricity.

That number is expected to rise, and nowhere is the hardship keener felt than in the King Country where the locals pay not one, but two energy bills - one for power and another for the lines that carry it.

Despite big promises made during the last election, many in the area are bracing themselves for another bitter winter - including 82-year-old Theresa Stephens.

"I got a $400 bill. My power bills were only $50-$60, I'm a pensioner and I can't afford that, it's crazy."

Theresa tries to minimise her bills by switching off her hot water cupboard during the day, but it's not how she imagined her retirement.

"I feel like a prisoner in my own home."

The Lines Company CEO Sean Horgan says the high cost of power is due to the network being spread across a vast region with a only small population to share the cost.

"Our poles are not beside suburban streets - they're up Mt Ruapehu or deep in the bush. This is an expensive network to run. We've told the Government that and we've made them very aware of the impact that has on our customers."

The Government has commissioned a review to investigate whether the electricity market is delivering a fair and equitable price to consumers. It's due to report back to Government mid-year, but local councillor Jacques Windell says his community can't afford to wait that long.

"This is a massive problem in the King Country. It's affecting economic development, it's affecting mental health, its affecting child poverty, energy hardship - all of these things are happening to our people.

"I'm asking you, you've come here you know what's going on here. Help us."

Until change comes, Sona Selwyn says he'll remain powerless and will be wearing a hat and gloves to bed.

The Hui

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