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The Press -News column Aug 20

Orion’s slap in the face.

Orion’s odious proposed price hike, which would gouge an extra $1000 off every Christchurch customer, over and above its existing 25% share of power bills, has run into a brick wall. The Commerce Commission’s draft report has virtually halved the scope of Orion’s planned cash-grab, while also noting that the community-owned lines company does not have to proceed with this increase.  No one disputes the critical infrastructure repair and enhancement programme, Orion has embarked upon. But there are alternative ways to pay the $150 million bill, for this ten-year project. As the Earthquake Recovery Minister has pointed out, the company’s balance sheet is very strong, its cash reserves are healthy – and Orion has generated $220 million in profit, in the past five years alone. Gerry Brownlee describes Orion’s proposed price hike as “an appalling slap in the face to the community, by a council-owned company that is behaving like a rapacious capitalist.” It is hard to disagree with that. So what is the position of our mayoral aspirant? And should they be successful on October 12, what, if any, pressure will they apply on Orion to abandon this lazy financial assault on a captive market? Paul Lonsdale swiftly responded to me, pledging to negotiate with Orion’s board to abandon the proposed increase. But Lianne Dalziel, took umbrage at my enquiry as to whether she’d lean on Orion to jettison the increase. Instead, I was emailed a diversionary missive from the red-hot mayoral favourite, as to why Orion was an “over my dead body” strategic asset which must be protected. Lianne also fired off a chapter and verse broadside about why the power retailers are the real “villains.” ( Although unlike the retailers, the customer can’t shop around for a lines company. And unlike the lines company, the council has no control over power retailers. ) Of course, all of this is a big fat red herring by the mayoral contender- and surprisingly, Dalziel declined to give me a straight answer on whether she specifically supports Orion’s desire to fleece an extra $1000 out of your backpocket.

Change.

With the nominations closed for the local body elections, a radically different looking council awaits the city. The 11th hour departure of seasoned councillor, Sue Wells, exemplifies the scale of change around the council table. Wells unquestionably injected enormous intellectual grunt into proceedings, but her fatal flaw was in hitching her wagon so unblinkingly, to the Bob Parker Express. Meanwhile, the departure of Wells and Tim Carter is a colossal loss of intellectual and financial firepower around the council table. In the interests of good governance, they’re attributes we need to look for amongst the fresh contenders for council.

First published in The Press, Mike’s weekly column.

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