Power poverty its reach is not limited to income, but it still hits people squarely where it hurts, their wallets.
Traditionally viewed as the domain of the elderly, the issue is widespread throughout Central Otago district community organisations say the problem is affecting people across the community.
And as power prices rise, the issue looks set to get worse.
Earlier this year, Aurora Energy increased its annual line charges by more than $100 for the average household in Central Otago and Wanaka fraction of the increases to come in the following years.
Since 2016, the Dunedin City Council-owned lines company has invested millions of dollars into upgrading its ageing infrastructure, which most notably included replacing thousands of power poles across Queenstown, Wanaka, Central Otago and Dunedin.
The cost to Central Otago and Wanaka residents will be an extra $380 to $875 in annual line charges by 2026, compared with prices last year.
In a district that can experience 150 frosts a year, that bites.
The Salvation Army said many of the people it worked with were affected by rising power prices.
Community ministry support administrator Diane Barbara said power poverty was a widespread problem.
“You could be looking at anybody who is unemployed, single parents, lots of families even people with two incomes have to be very careful,” she said.
Central Otago Budgeting Services co-ordinator Pam Hughes agreed, saying for some on the breadline, it was tough to get by.
“I’ve worked with a couple of elderly clients who are not turning on their heating sources and are staying in bed to keep warm, which is a concern,” she said.
There were a lot of budgeting pressures on low-income earners in Central Otago at the moment and any increase in monthly expenditure was tough to take especially for pensioners on a fixed income, Ms Hughes said.
“People are having to make sure they’ve got enough clothing [to stay warm in their homes]. Well, some of them don’t have warm clothing to rely on,” she said.
High power costs and people not being able to heat their homes, or having homes which were not insulated properly, had flow-on effects for things such as health and wellbeing and the ability to buy food, she said.
Those flow-on effects were worrying, especially when elderly people were involved, Age Concern social support co-ordinator Marie Roxburgh said.
“I’m going into houses that are freezing their homes with their heaters, but using blankets to keep warm.”
The issue had been around for years, and spiralling living costs were a contributing factor, she said.
Rising power prices in the district would not be be going away any time soon.
Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan unsuccessfully petitioned Aurora Energy and the Electricity Authority to spread the cost of upgrades more evenly across the network.
Aurora also provides power to Dunedin and Queenstown, though line charges are already lower in those areas and will increase by less.
Mr Cadogan said he did not think his pleas would change anything over the coming four years.
“Our last hope was the Electricity Authority would force it on Aurora,” Mr Cadogan said.
“Aurora have always maintained that the costs lie where they fall and the argument they’ve always had is that we’ve got fewer people per kilometre of wire, so therefore it costs more for every person,” he said.
“I argued it hard with the Electricity Authority that, as a matter of fairness, particularly where another territorial authority owned the company, that it should be evened out.
“That regrettably and sadly .. was lost and there’s nowhere left to argue.”
He accepted the anticipated line charge increases would become reality, so other mechanisms were needed to help vulnerable residents warm their homes as the winter energy payment was not enough.
The Government needed to do more to ensure low-income earners had warm and healthy homes, Mr Cadogan said.
He was also watching talk of reform of the electricity sector with interest.