On 25 May, Shortland Street marked a quarter century on our screens with an explosive 90-minute anniversary episode, featuring a volcanic eruption that smothered Auckland in a deadly cloud of ash. Power giant Mercury Energy celebrated the show’s 25th birthday by offering customers free electricity on the day the episode aired.

Mercury customer Steven Perreau isn’t a Shorty fan but, like most of our members, he has an eye for a deal. Steven works from home and to maximise the offer he fired up his most power-hungry appliances.

As well as blasting 3 heat pumps all day, throwing on extra loads of washing and setting the oven to auto-clean, Steve charged his electric car from nearly flat and refilled his 1100L spa pool, heating the water to 45°C. We estimate he used at least 170 units (kWh) of electricity that day, or about $40 worth of power.

Mercury’s promotion claimed it would credit customers’ accounts with the value of the electricity they consumed during its “free” power day. If you had a smart meter, your rebate would be based on the actual amount of electricity you consumed. Those with older analogue meters, which require manual reading, would get a refund based on estimated usage.

Steven has a smart meter so assumed he would be credited based on his actual usage. But when his power bill arrived, he discovered Mercury had given him just $4.32 for the free power day. That’s 10% of what he deserved.

When he contacted Mercury about the problem, it credited him for $40 worth of electricity. Steven says a Mercury rep told him it estimated his usage because it couldn’t access readings for his smart meter, even though the meter was installed by Metrix, a Mercury subsidiary.

We asked Mercury how many customers who opted for the free power day received credits based on their real usage.

The company said close to 90% of customers were credited based on actual smart meter readings. Steven was among a “small number of customers without accurate smart meter data”, which the company said was due to a “longer term communication issue” with the meter at his property.

Mercury accepted its terms and conditions could be improved to explain how customers in Steven’s situation would be affected. “We will look into this before any future campaigns,” it said.

Like Steven, there may be other Mercury customers who didn’t get the refund they were expecting for their free day of power. If you feel you were short-changed by the power promotion, send your May bill to george@consumer.org.nz


By George Block
Technical Writer