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Ed Said - Feeling the Power

dadNo, I don’t mean the disruption to the life of a young female Prime Minister trying to juggle her duties with a young family, I mean the actual cost of lighting and heating to the average household – if there is such a thing as ‘the average household.’

The news last week told us that home electricity costs were now 80 per cent greater than they were in 1990. What is the actual relevance of such a statistic? We are also told that this last July was the fifth warmest in NZ history. Really? The bushfires in California cover two-thirds the size of Greenland. Statistics like these have little or no relevance to anything and are announced simply to cause gasps of consternation among readers. 

But back to our ‘power struggle’. While charges may be 80 per cent greater than in 1990, the value of houses has probably increased 500 per cent or more in that time. Wages too have actually increased exponentially so is power really so expensive or is it the way we use power that’s the problem? A case in the media recently cited a family in south Auckland where the Grandmother often cooked dinner late so heat from the stove and the oven helped heat the house for her younger family members. On occasions she has had to borrow to pay a power bill in excess of $700. The mind boggles when there are up to a dozen people in the house, including many adults who should be contributing, but that’s another story.

First of all this is not 1960 but it does bear some relevance. We lived in a house with three bedrooms, a lounge, kitchen, dining room, hallway, sunroom-cum-sewing room and a porch. Let’s say nine rooms in all and each lit by just one single light in the centre of the ceiling and when we left a room the light was turned off. We had a radiogram, in 1963 we got TV which in those days ran one channel from 6-10pm. The electric stove was rarely used, the coal range was the favoured cooking medium which, like the open fire was also a wetback – plumbed to also heat the water, for the benefit of the uninitiated.

Compare that with today. Even the smallest houses are considerably bigger and many have more than three bedrooms, each probably has three or four downlights, plus bedlamps, maybe a night-light, plus a clock radio in each bedroom on constant standby. LED lights use next to no power you say but multiply that ‘next to no power’ by several rooms when pilot lights from TVs, radios, computers (two and sometimes three per household) never go out. Long showers, heaters, automatic washing machines, dishwashers (both big users of water and power) dryers,

computers, huge fridges plus a freezer in the garage. Heatpumps have now become almost mandatory doubling as air conditioners in summer so the high usage never stops. Cellphones, tablets and gadgets that all need charging plus any new mod-cons are all electrically powered and collectively amount to more than many can afford. An equation says many are spending more than 10 per cent of their earnings on power. From whence did this equation eventuate? And if a household has an income of, say, $700 a week, is $280 not sufficient for their electrical needs? Different strokes for different folks of course. 

Houses are much better insulated these days. We are sold long life, low voltage, cost saving bulbs yet power usage is constantly rising. The problem is we are now rearing a generation who have never had to economise or make compromises in important areas. We are promised so much through subjective advertising but fail to realise the costs involved. We tend to take for granted all the good things we have available to us but are not prepared to use them rationally. Though it’s just so easy to flick on a switch, it’s just as easy to flick it off again. 

Just my opinion.


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