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Avoiding energy poverty

Age Concern New Zealand media release 19 November 08

Avoiding energy poverty

Too many older people are living in 'energy poverty' and it's getting worse, with 11 percent price rises in Wellington and Otago.

Age Concern New Zealand national president Liz Baxendine says this is the time to discuss the issue of energy poverty

"News that Contact Energy has lost up to 10,000 customers since it doubled the amount it could pay its directors, on top of 11% price rises in Wellington and Otago, shows that people can't afford price rises and they aren't prepared to put up them any more.

"Let's talk about energy use and conservation now, before it becomes another winter crisis," Mrs Baxendine says.

"Cold homes are killing people. Older people, along with families with young children, are most likely to need help with energy bills: they have the highest needs and the lowest incomes.

"They face 'energy poverty'. This is defined as households having to use more than 10 percent of their income to maintain healthy temperatures. They are forced to cut back on essential household services such as heating, lighting, cooking, and hot water."

The concept of energy poverty is used widely in the UK to identify and alleviate hardship. If households there are using more than 10 percent of their income to maintain the minimum safe temperatures set by the World Health Organisation, additional government assistance swings into action.

Energy consultants say New Zealand is lagging behind. For example, the UK government spends around eight times per capita more than the NZ government retro-fitting insulation and putting efficient heating appliances into cold homes.

"Few New Zealanders realise that Government takes $1 billion every year in dividends and taxes from New Zealand's power bills," the Domestic Energy Users network (DEUN), of which Age Concern is a member, says. "Householders pay 46% of those power bills.  That means there's plenty of householders' money to recycle into energy efficiency."

Age Concern New Zealand supports the continued use of a Home Energy Fund to recycle profits that Government takes from the electricity sector to help low-income people upgrade the energy performance of cold and unhealthy homes.

This results in improved health for older people and benefits the environment through energy conservation.

Rising household power bills are fuelling inflation and putting older people's health at risk. DEUN research shows that energy-hungry industries are using more power, forcing up prices, while households are cutting back on power use.

"We want to see energy poverty eliminated through a combination of crisis payments to the most vulnerable home energy consumers, fairer electricity and gas tariffs, and a long-term programme of home energy retrofits," Mrs Baxendine says.




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