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Power struggle

Published: 7:41PM Wednesday August 25, 2010 Source: Fair Go

Reporter:  Ruwani Perera

Switching from paying Mercury Energy once a month to pre-paying for their power was Kim and Matt's way of reducing a major household expense.

Pre-paid electricity means you budget how much you want to spend on power.  It's a great way of managing your money avoiding waiting anxiously for nasty bills in the mail.

Glo Bug works a bit like a pre-paid mobile.  For a minimum of $20 dollars you can top up your credit balance.

The original Glo Bug meter was launched in 2008.  It shows what your remaining credit balance is and also tells you how much power you're using per hour.  Glo Bug customers knew exactly where they were at with their daily electricity costs.

Trudy Ferguson joined Glo Bug this year.  She found pay-as-you-go power was a good way for her and her two kids to keep track of spending.

Bills were transparent and they could see exactly what energy they were using.

That awareness saw Trudy and the Bradys make real savings.

But then in March Mercury Energy gave the Glo Bug unit a makeover; it's now smaller in size with less information for consumers.  Gone is the display showing how much credit you have left and how much power you're using - instead a colour-coded barometer.

A green glow says you've got more than ten dollars of credit remaining. If it turns to amber that's warning you your power will be disconnected at midday the next day.  Once you see red you're in trouble - your power will be cut off at lunchtime that day. 

You can call up to find out your credit balance, but balances are only updated daily with the new unit.

When Kim and Trudy first joined Glo Bug in February there was no fixed daily charge and a flat rate.  Since then Mercury Energy has gone back on that and in May introduced a fixed charge and raised the unit price of electricity.  It's since gone up even further - a third price hike because of the emissions trading scheme.

Mercury Energy says the original Glo Bug was priced at a premium and the new unit has brought pre-pay power prices down and in line with monthly bill payers.

It says the pre-pay product is there specifically to help a certain group of customers and that's people who are really struggling with their monthly bills.  Mercury agrees the Glo Bug original had good consumer information and says there are other products in the pipeline.

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