hand plug electricity energyPhoto: Kelly Sikema / Unsplash

Aotearoa’s first not-for-profit power company will launch in the Wellington region this month, aiming to reduce energy hardship.

Toast Electric will use profits from “regular” customers to subsidise the electricity bills of those who struggle to pay.

It is run by Wellington sustainable living social enterprise, the Sustainability Trust, which has been operating a pilot with around 80 “friends and family” customers since May.

Sustainability Trust fair energy manager Phil Squire said it was addressing a desperate need within the community.

“Energy hardship is a real big issue of our times, with lower incomes and high cost of energy, and poor housing quality.

“We at least think we’ve got a shot at making a difference.”

Initially, those in energy hardship will be referred to Toast Electric by budgeting support agencies.

They would be guaranteed to pay less than what they did now, but the solution was more comprehensive than that, Squire said.

They will also get a home energy assessment to understand how much energy they need, and how that could be reduced with the Trust’s other healthy home services, advice and education.

Over winter, prices will be capped to give customers in hardship certainty over their power bill.

“I liken it in some ways to, you pay for one load of firewood but you’ve got access to one or two loads more,” Squire said.

Power will be priced “competitively” for regular customers, who will also get a free home energy assessment.

The extra drawcard was the social benefit, Squire said.

“Any profits that we make are returned to support low income households, instead of going to shareholders or, in the case of a number of retailers around at the moment, profits going offshore.

“You’ve got a very local response here in Wellington, any profits we make are going to families in the area.”

In the future, there could be an opportunity for the model to be “white labelled” so similar charities across Aotearoa could offer the same service, he said.

Pilot customer Jacqui Lane said Toast Electric’s model was a “no-brainer”.

“It’s actually really nice to think that not only are we getting power at a really comparable sort of price to all the other power companies, rather than lining already rich people’s pockets with dividend payouts and things, the profits are going to support other Kiwis that are going through financial hardship.

“There’s a lot of them out there at the moment.

“It’s not costing me any more to do that, and somebody else is benefiting that needs to be benefiting.”

Toast Electric launches to the public on 15 September.