Media Release: Voters not aware of their valuable asset

Only 21% of eligible voters cast their votes in the last election for the trustees of the Auckland Energy Consumer Trust in 2006.  This low turnout is surprising because the asset of the Trust is worth approximately $1.5 billion – a 75.1% holding in Vector Ltd. The Trust received a $98 million dividend from its shareholding in Vector.  The low turnout is because power bill holders are unaware of the fact they are beneficiaries of the Trust and the important role that the trustees play in managing such a sizeable asset on behalf of electricity consumers. 
Voting papers will be arriving in mail boxes in the Trust district from Friday 16 October and independent candidate, Ms Coom is taking steps to ensure that voters know about the election by visiting all of the super city–sized voting district over the next two weeks.
“It’s always harder for an independent to get elected but I think it is worthwhile getting out there so that voters know about their Trust, their ownership of a valuable and essential power asset as well as their option to vote for a credible, community focused, non-political candidate as one of the five Trustees” said Ms Coom, a corporate lawyer, most recently at Vector Ltd.   “Quite frankly, I have no idea why the political parties are so involved in these kinds of elections – especially for a non-political issue such as electricity supply.  I would have thought the main criteria for elect-ability was competence to address relevant issues rather than association with voting blocs” she said.
Trust beneficiaries have recently been paid a dividend of $320 by the Trust but the majority are still confused about where it comes from. Common misconceptions are that the money is paid by retail companies, the defunct power board or even one of the party tickets.
 “We are entering a unique period in Auckland’s governance history with the implementation of the super city structure.  I think it is vitally important that Auckland’s energy consumers have someone on the board of trustees who is able to think about what is best for their interests without having to follow party allegiances” said Ms Coom.

High-class hookers benefit from AECT dividend spend up

One of the first people to post on the AECT website which asks “How will you spend your dividend?” shared his desire to spend it on a high-class prostitute.  The fact the post was still there after a week may be clever on AECT’s part because it really shows, like the ad campaign claims, that beneficiaries of the trust have the power to spend their dividend exactly as they wish (either that or the moderator of the post is snoozing on the job) . 
The majority of posts are heartfelt, touching stories giving genuine thanks to the AECT for the payment. However I can’t help read the stories – many from people who are putting the money into unpaid bills – and think of the woman I met at the Pakuranga Community Network Meeting last week. She was really chuffed about receiving the $320 of “free” money and was making plans to spend it on her family. When I asked her about her energy bills she confessed that she lived in a cold house but didn’t put the heater on all winter because she couldn’t afford the cost. This is an example of energy poverty that it is estimated effects a quarter of Kiwi households. 
The $320 dividend comes from AECT’s return on its 75.1% shareholding in Vector which includes a range of commercial businesses, not just the electricity lines business.  The lines charge that consumers pay Vector is only one component of a household’s electricity bill so it is not  just Vector’s pricing that is causing energy poverty. However Vector is part of the electricity industry that prices using variable charging (based on kilowatt hours) that does not encourage efficiencies and keeps prices inflated.  For example, it would be far more sustainable for electricity charges to be based on capacity (also called fixed charging) and for smart meters to be introduced into every home with a range of tariff options to encourage efficient energy use.
As a trustee I support the community receiving a dividend from a community energy asset but what I would also like to see is Vector and the AECT being part of the solution to ensure the dividend is not being spent on unaffordable power bills.

How will you spend your AECT dividend?

The Auckland Energy Consumer Trust paid out $320 on 18 September to electricity consumers (income beneficiaries of the trust) in Auckland City (including Waiheke Island), Manukau City and the northern parts of Papakura. 
AECT are currently undertaking a campaign promoting how great it is to get the dividend and asking people to share their stories as to how they intend to spend the money. It is nice to think of the dividend as a windfall that can be put to a special purchase.
But of course there is no such thing as $320 of “free” money as it partly came from the profits Vector makes from charging the very people who receive the dividend – Vector’s customers who pay electricity line charges. It is fair to ask:  if this money is being returned to us, are we not currently being overcharged for electricity?  Many households will have paid their highest energy bills ever over a cold winter – the dividend could be used to benefit the community through lower power bills when it really matters.
As a trustee I will also be asking whether the large dividend Vector has paid the Trust means Vector is spending enough to give customers what they really want – a safe, reliable and economical service. All very well for households to have an extra $320 this month but not if this has to be spent on candles and torches when the lights go out!
Tell me your stories – is the power really in your hands?