Power struggle: one man's fight to find out why his power bill was too high

Greg King makes chopping boards in a workshop in Opotiki, and for that he needs electricity. But his needs are no greater than those of his mate Pete across the road who runs a repair shop. In fact, their usage is very similar.

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It seems one of the problems in New Zealand is figuring out what you’re paying for. Source: Fair Go

They're both on commercial rates. They both have what's known as three phase power and both use roughly the same amount.

But one day, during their usual smoko, Greg discovered his power bill was three times as much as Pete's: $6.62 a day, rather than $2.60 a day.

A closer inspection of their bills didn't shed any light. Greg couldn't work out why he was paying more. He tried to contact Mercury, his provider, and Horizon, the power line company, and they offered no explanation. So he got his friend Sam Koster involved.

Sam used to be the local GP, and now likes to help people in any way he can. He doesn't mind a bit of a tussle, so he rang Horizon again and arranged a meeting.

Horizon finally brought out a sheet of codes and charges, which revealed that Greg was on a 100 amp supply, while Pete was on a 60 amp supply.

It meant Greg was paying a lot more for the privilege of being able to boost his power usage if he had the need. But he felt he didn't need this option, so was happy to hear he could downgrade to 60 amp by paying $220 to a contractor to come and change the fuse in his box.

The contractor came out, but instead of finding a 100 amp fuse, he found there was already a 60 amp fuse there. This suggested Greg had been paying more than he should ever since his business had moved nearly 10 years ago. Greg worked out that the overpayment was $1400 a year, so $15,000 plus interest plus GST. He wanted to give a bill to Horizon and get his money back, so he arranged a meeting. Greg told us he asked, "Have you brought your cheque book?", adding, "I said I'd like this much and he said that's not going to happen and made me an offer of $2800."

Horizon's reasoning was that the 60 amp fuse had only been put in four years ago, not nine-and-a-half years ago, so Greg had only been overcharged for four years. This was very confusing for Greg, because it was Horizon who'd told him he had a 100 amp fuse and there were no records of any change to the fuse from four years ago. Greg wasn't giving up. He got in touch with Fair Go and the electricity ombudsman, wanting to get a fair deal on the money he'd been overcharged.

The process took several months, with a final agreement being made between the two parties for a confidential sum. Horizon admitted an error had been made and offered Greg an unreserved apology. They said to Fair Go that it had followed the correct process and believed the matter had been resolved to Greg's satisfaction. But while Greg may have been satisfied with the financial situation, he was far from happy about the length of time it took to reach an agreement and the difficulties he had getting the information from the company about his own bill. He believes power companies should improve how they deal with customers, and they should readily refund any money a customer is due.