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Letter: Destitute by utility costs

Thursday 27 June 2024 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion

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Letter: Destitute by utility costs

Dear Editor, I write as I have no other recourse, hoping the relevant Ministers and organisations take notice. People listen. Te Aponga Uira (TAU) are ripping us off!

If this is how the imminent water charges are going to go, people, we will be destitute, decimated by utility costs. They are taking food from our children’s mouths, the shirts off our backs and soon our showers in the morning.

As an expat of a number of years, don’t tell me “Welcome to Raro” or “suck it up buttercup”.

As an expat I see what competition in the electricity market brings. People, it brings you deals like free power from 9pm to midnight – use as much as you like, it brings you ‘an hour of power’ pick an hour a week and run everything you can for free and it brings you cheaper unit costs.

What does lack of competition and TAU bring you? A month of misery? Expensive unit costs, blown up fridges and appliances and a notice in the paper telling you that if you suffered from our special bonus surge of power (surprise) sending 315 volts to your house for a week and if you lose and appliance, our terms and conditions state, sorry mate – “not our problem”.

Talk to one of our repair companies as I did – they are rushed off their feet, repairing appliances around the island directly pointed to these power disruptions as the cause and were even negotiating warranty implications. But that is not my point. The monthly shock we get is more pressing, more constant and more upsetting. Every month more misery and less money to go around. Meanwhile that polluting diesel generator keeps humming, spitting out more smoke to add to what will ultimately lead to the obliteration to our low-lying islands.

TAU’s mission “Empowering the community through sustainable and innovative energy solutions”. What a joke! Want to hear another joke – TAU’s vision statement “To guard and protect the energy security the community has enjoyed for more than three decades, while working to embrace new technologies that deliver cost savings and benefits to our consumers and, in doing so, help the Cook Islands meet its international commitments to achieve net zero emissions.” Haha, another good one! These guys should start a comedy club.

They’ll tell us if they are so bold to reply with their ‘reasoning’ that they’ve done this and that and there are financial headwinds and price of blah blah etc - this we know. But the bottom line is that we use electricity, long gone are the days of huddling around a candle. We are a developed nation – that’s what developed nations do - they use power. But they also develop their services in a way that gives better and more efficient access to this - as they say they want to do in their mission statement.

We are blessed with sun but use diesel, NZ is blessed with rain and uses that. Different environment, but let’s innovate and let’s also do some maths. With a bill from a family member in NZ, a family of four in a rural environment they pay $55.13 for line rental, $218 for 862 kWh and 269 kWh free with a 9pm to midnight free plan. Their bill is a total of $314.89 (including GST). That bill here using TAU unit pricing on their 3-tier pricing plan, totals $1069.54 (including VAT) per month. Yikes - but in NZ you could probably pay that as the average wage according to Stats NZ in March 2024 is between $38.87 - $42.79 or around $1,711.60 gross. Question – what’s the average wage in Rarotonga? maybe $14p/h or $560 pw gross. But in NZ you wouldn’t pay, because they have competition and would swap. I did it all the time. Keeps power companies and gentailers (generator-retailers) sharp, on point and efficient. Having a monopoly does the opposite. Pretty words and broken promises do nothing.

Sure, you may say, if you don’t like it, just go home, yes, I’m considering that, but what’s truly sad is if you keep this up Te Aponga Uira, the locals, the powerless people will have to leave here THEIR HOME just to survive.

People - let your Ministers know - we need to find a way to take the power back!

(Name and address supplied)

Reply

Dear Editor

I acknowledge the concerns raised and thank Cook Islands News for the opportunity to reply.

First, I would like to emphasise the unique context we operate in. It’s important to understand that comparing an electricity provider on a small, isolated island with 50 staff to a company in New Zealand with a population of millions as well as significant renewable assets is not a fair comparison. The cost of doing business (any business) on our island is inherently higher due to our isolated location in the middle of a vast ocean.

Secondly, Te Aponga Uira (TAU) as a state-owned enterprise, is required to be self-sustaining. That means we do not get government funding to support our operations (as a number of other Island nations do).

Additionally, within our operational budget, we cover things like street lighting to help keep our people and visitors safe - maintaining the lights and covering the cost of running them every night. Reserves for infrastructure investment and capital maintenance and upgrades, such as the recent switchgear replacement project, are required to be able to maintain reliability as well as enable new technologies.

Our customers who were on-island during the Covid-19 pandemic will also remember that TAU provided $11.5 million of support to Government through customer power subsidies when our borders were closed and no visitors were coming into the country.

Thirdly, we are progressing in our journey to introduce a greater proportion of renewable energy into our network. But we are doing so carefully, mindful of the state of our electricity grid, which needs to be resilient to deal with the increase in electricity from solar sources when the sun is shining, and able to

quickly provide electricity via diesel generator on cloudy days. We are mindful of the experience of other Pacific Islands that have high renewable contributions and are facing severe challenges maintaining reliable supply. As a result, they are having to ask customers to reduce their use to manage the issues they face. We do not want to have to ask our customers to do this.

Finally, we are proud to be one of the most reliable electricity providers across the Pacific – that is, our customers have fewer unexpected cuts than in other nations. Our small team of 50 staff work hard 24/7 to ensure reliable electricity and to put things right when they go wrong.

We acknowledge the number of recent unexpected electricity cuts which are under investigation and will be communicating soon to customers on these events.

Meitaki maata

Lesley Katoa

Chief Executive Officer

Te Aponga Uira