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On the job . . . Network Waitaki chief executive Geoff Douch at the company's premises in Chelmer St. PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

Network Waitaki chief executive Geoff Douch has criticised changes to the national grid’s pricing structure.

New Electricity Authority guidelines for pricing could add $1.6 million to the district’s power bill each year, resulting in Waitaki customers paying $40 to $50 more and some commercial customers seeing larger increases, depending on demand.

Last week’s announcement by the New Zealand Electricity Authority included changes to the transmission pricing methodology, to be implemented in 2023.

At present, pricing was based on winter evening peaks in the lower South Island, Mr Douch said.

“We are a summer peaking network because of the irrigation, [and] they are moving to a different method of charging which means we are going to pay more, because it is based on our total demand rather than our winter demand,” he said.

Even though there was hydro generation in the district, meaning the use of the national grid was minimal, Network Waitaki did not get a better deal on its electricity, he said.

“That’s the ironic thing, we are charged to use the national grid.

“Because it’s all treated as one big interconnected system, they effectively charge us for the use of the national grid, which to the layperson seems quite a perverse outcome.”

Network Waitaki, the Waitaki Power Trust and several large North Otago users submitted against the proposed changes during the consultation process in 2019 and met with representatives from the Electricity Authority in Wellington to share their concerns about the proposed changes.

“Fortunately, we have some time before these changes take effect in 2023 and we will be exploring options available to us to minimise the impact to our customers,” Mr Douch said.

The average line charges in Waitaki, outside of energy volume charges, were still the sixth lowest in the country, he said.

Over the lockdown, Network Waitaki put planned work on hold to focus on maintaining supply during Alert Level 4.

“We made a very deliberate decision to not do any shutdowns, because people were stuck at home and we didn’t want them to be stuck at home with no power,” Mr Douch said.

As the country moved into Alert Level 3, Network Waitaki was able to complete 18 planned jobs, compared with just one in Level 4.

Staff were now working through the backlog of planned work, he said.

“It means our team is fully utilised now. They are going flat out.”