Gerard Hehir: With great power comes no responsibility

Gerard Hehir: With great power comes no responsibility

My house is currently supplied electricity by Meridian. As soon as I can change I will because Meridian spilled water to hike electricity prices.

They got consumers to spend an extra $80 million on power unnecessarily. Clever them. The Electricity Authority has called their behaviour an “undesirable trading situation”, or “UTS”.

Where shall I start with this?  How about with the older generation who worked, paid their taxes and their power bills during the years when the hydro dams that Meridian profits from were actually built – not by the “free market”, but by the people, for the people. Now many of them are retired on a fixed income, worrying on a cold day if they can afford to turn the heater on.

What about the hundreds of thousands of workers who have lost substantial income during the pandemic, and the tens of thousands, including many low paid members of my own union, who have lost their jobs and are under severe financial pressure? The type of pressure that makes you physically sick when you see the electricity bill in the mail.

Or how about the many small businesses who are just one unexpectedly high bill away from going under.

But this takes the cake: Meridian, the company that proclaimed in its 2019 annual report that “we strive for clean energy for a fairer and healthier world”, chose to add 6000 unnecessary tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere. This is said to be the equivalent of “roughly 50,000 Toyota Corollas rolling around the country over the same period of time”.  All to fatten profits at the expense of consumers. And at the expense of our children’s future.

Meridian need to pay. Along with the other large electricity players, they have to understand how unacceptable this behaviour is. The best way to communicate is in the language they know and love above all else – the bottom line. They will lose my account and they should lose lots of others (go to Powerswitch). The regulator should also penalise them at least three times as much as consumers lost in this scam.

The old saying is you can measure a person by the company they keep. Manipulating wholesale electricity markets like this puts them in the company of Enron – one of the worst examples of willful corporate fraud and corruption in history.

Secondly, Meridian should immediately remove this “sustainability” page from their website and replace it with an apology. Show a little shame at least.

Thirdly, Meridian is 51% owned by the government, on behalf of all of us. The Prime Minister said that climate change was the nuclear-free moment of her generation. As someone from the previous generation who protested, gathered signatures and campaigned to achieve a nuclear-free New Zealand, I want to believe her. Her government has a controlling interest on the Meridian Board. This is the moment for decisive and public action, not more words.

Fourthly, the utterly broken electricity market needs to be immediately fixed. Generation needs to be bought under public ownership and control. Let’s not kid ourselves that this is an aberration that can be fixed with a rule tweak. Other electricity retailers point out that this “situation” was just the one that could be proven: “we have watched and waited for an extreme moment where it is really clear what the behaviour is.”

And finally, these were the people at the wheel when the organisation they lead behaved so appallingly. Executive incentives will be fattened directly by the extra $80 million ripped off consumers (that’s why massive penalties are important). Some of them will have spoken at conferences about Meridian’s enduring commitment to fight global warming.

I’m not linking to their profiles to encourage anyone to harass them. I’m doing it so that, somewhere on the internet, somewhere in Google search results, their names are directly linked to a page that records the appalling behaviour they need to own.  And to fix.

Gerard Hehir is National Secretary of Unite Union

This article can be republished under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0  license. Attributions should include a link to the Democracy Project.