Residents’ shock at sky-high power bills
IF YOUR latest power bill has given you an electric shock, you're not the only one.
Residents across the Southern Downs are fuming as a sudden surge in power prices pushes their bills to astronomical new highs.
A simple post on a Facebook classifieds page led to the gathering of a number of angry bill payers in Leslie Park yesterday, as frustration intensifies at the record high charges.
What began as embarrassment over a higher than normal power bill, Laurel Hughes posted a question on the Warwick Classifieds Facebook page asking people about their latest bills.
"I was initially embarrassed about my bill - I actually hid it from my husband," she said.
"Two of my girlfriends had theirs for a week and they were above the $2000 mark - they kept quiet because they were ashamed."
Within a couple of hours of her post, Laurel had 129 replies - with more than 200 people on the page of 6000 members responding in the days that followed.
After seeing the post on Facebook and hearing about her daughter-in-law's high bill, Lyn McMillan surged into action, arranging a gathering of frustrated bill payers with the Daily News in Leslie Park yesterday.
"I just want everyone to have their say," she said.
"Everybody is a little voice - put them together and it makes a big noise.
"We wanted to start the ball rolling."
Mrs McMillan's daughter-in-law Shanelle Thompson is among those hit with a massive bill of almost $3000.
"Last year I had eight heaters going and my bill was $600," she said.
"This year I ran the one heater and my bill is through the roof."
The high power bills have pushed people in droves to community care organisations, as cost of living pressures take their toll on low-income earners, pensioners in particular.
Debbie De Hamer from the Stanthorpe Community Op-Shop said a lot more people were coming in asking for food vouchers.
"We had one lady come all the way from Texas asking for help," she said.
"We were giving out blankets to the elderly this winter because they were too scared to use their heaters - it's getting ridiculous."
After being stung with a high bill herself, Mrs De Hamer phoned Ergon asking for an explanation.
"I was told I could not make a formal complaint to Ergon," she said. "I was told the bills can be seasonally adjusted - how do you go from $300 to over $1000?"
The stories were the same from resident to resident gathered in Leslie Park, from those on extensive payment plans to those whose bills have more than tripled between quarters.
Single mother of four Sandra Smith said she was now on a payment plan until February for her latest $2565 bill.
"As a single parent with four kids on a carer's pension I just can't afford it," she said. "I have two more bills before the payment plan ends - how will I afford those?"
Ergon Energy issued a statement on Tuesday saying they were aware that affordability is the number one issue for their customers.
"While Ergon does not set retail prices, it is committed to its charges staying below the rate of inflation for the next regulatory period from 2015 to 2020," a spokesperson said.
"Decisions such as not proceeding with a second seperate 110kV Warwick to Stanthorpe line, due to lower than expected load growth and revised security standards, is an example that will lead to lower network charges.
"Ergon Energy Retail also has flexible bill-paying options, such as Pay per month, to assist customers better manage their payments."