August 2, 2008

Contact Links Heat Pumps to Huge Bills

By THORNE, Dylan

THE growing popularity of heat pumps had contributed to a spate of massive power bills in the south, Contact Energy said yesterday.

The company this week investigated complaints from southern customers about skyrocketing bills, including several that had jumped more than $500.

Contact Energy retail general manager Jason Delamore said the investigation had found no systematic failures with metering and billing.

The company had looked into each case and established that a change in user patterns, such as the installation of heat pumps and the use of oil heaters, was behind the increases, Mr Delamore said.

Contact communications manager Jonathan Hill said the mammoth bills occurred when customers did not tell the company about changes in their energy use, such as the installation of heat pumps.

Estimated accounts were based on usage at the corresponding time the previous year, so if the company was unaware of change in energy use, the next actual reading would factor in a significant catchup, Mr Hill said.

The installation of a heat pump in the home of Christchurch woman Selena Cannell was "almost certainly" the key reason her bill had more than doubled from $160 in May to $400 in July, Mr Hill said.

Another horrendous bill that jumped about $800 was put down to the use of an oil heater and a faulty hot water cylinder using a lot of electricity.

Heat pumps were efficient but still impacted heavily on power bills, Mr Hill said.

"There is a perception out there that heat pumps are almost free to use -- that is not the case at all.

"We don't think it would be uncommon for people who are running them really hard to incur costs of up to $5 a day," he said.

"I think that is almost certainly what we are seeing here." The company would be able to provide more accurate estimates if customers informed them about changes in energy use, he said.

Mr Delamore said energy use was changing and this had been highlighted by the cases raised.

"More and more New Zealanders are getting heat pumps, so all retailers will be facing similar issues," he said.

However, Ms Cannell disputed Contact's claim a heat pump had caused her power bill to double.

The company that installed the heat pump had told her it should be costing only $60 to $70 maximum a month, she said.

"I think it's a lot of rubbish and I don't want to have my power with them any more," she said.

Daikin New Zealand, which specialises in heat pumps, said it was unlikely a heat pump had caused Ms Cannell's power bill to double. It cost between 10c and 20c an hour to run a heat pump, a spokesman said.

[email protected] POWER HUNGRY Customers wanting to use Contact's automated metering service should call 0800 80 9000.

The Contact Energy automated meter reading service provides customers their own readings every month, thus ensuring accurate bills. Contact also offers a Smoothpay service, which ensures a set amount is paid every single month.

The days of meter readers might be numbered. Electricity companies are installing smart meters, which can be read remotely and would provide actual readings every month.

(c) 2008 Southland Times, The. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.