Interview with Cameron Burrows, ERANZ

18 March 2019

Cameron Burrows, CE, Electricity Retailers Association of New Zealand (ERANZ)

Last September, Cameron Burrows stepped out of the Beehive and into a different kind of heat, becoming CE of ERANZ during the widely covered Electricity Price Review.  As the new voice of a sector under the microscope, Burrows (former Chief Policy Advisor for John Key and Bill English) says the future is bright, and customers are the number one priority. 

What brought you to ERANZ?
I’m an economist by trade. I moved from the Treasury into Parliament, where I worked across a huge range of portfolios, from tax to welfare reform to economic policy.
The Beehive was fast-paced and great fun, there was always something new happening. But I’m now really enjoying focusing in-depth on one sector that affects all New Zealanders.  Becoming CE of ERANZ is an opportunity to work on economic issues in a fascinating sector going through major change. The sector is incredibly complex, so it’s a steep learning curve for me, but it is a great time to come on board. 

What’s your plan for ERANZ?
We want ERANZ to be an energetic and positive voice for both electricity retailers and their customers.  My job is to drive that. ERANZ is still a new organisation – established in 2015 – so after three years it’s timely to look at what we’re delivering, whether we’re in the right place and what needs to change. 

We want to put customers at the heart of everything we do. So, a big focus will continue to be on supporting a competitive electricity market – because that drives the creation of innovative new products and keeps prices down for consumers. We also want to make sure we’re helping educate customers on things like how to make sure they’re on the right plan and how to use their electricity efficiently, so they get the biggest bang for their buck. 

What are your current priorities?
Beyond our focus on supporting customers, a key priority for us is engagement – both across the sector and with politicians, policy-makers and consumer organisations is critical. I’ve moved to ERANZ from the public sector – so I’m really enjoying maintaining those links to ensure the industry understands context the Government is operating on, but also so the public sector understand where our members are coming from too.

Sustainability is a big focus – promoting the role the sector can play in reducing carbon emissions. 

And we’ve got a strong agenda to help support vulnerable consumers. It is particularly pleasing to see work ERANZ is already doing in this space being highlighted by the EPR Panel for wider implementation. 

What are your thoughts on the Electricity Price Review (EPR)?
We welcome it. The industry is always be striving to do better for its customers, and the EPR is a useful mechanism to continue that progress.
ERANZ has been actively working with the Panel and others in the electricity sector to provide input into the process, to help ensure it drives the most benefit for New Zealand electricity users.
The electricity sector has made some positive gains recently– the price of electricity has been flat for the last five years and is the 11th cheapest in the developed world. The challenge is that our electricity usage can be high – and that’s often down to poor insulation and old heaters meaning it takes a lot of electricity to heat your home. 

How many players are there now in the electricity retail market?
We now have 30 retailers, each offering different plans. That means there’s extensive customer choice and real incentives for retailers to innovate and keep prices low. Competition that is working well benefits everyone, especially customers.

Where should customers begin with that choice?
We’d encourage people to look at the price and plan comparison website Powerswitch, which is actually funded by electricity retailers and run by Consumer NZ:

A lot of factors beyond price influence what is the right plan for a family – such as flat-rate vs spot price tariffs, customer service requirement and payment options - so it can be hard to say, ‘this is the best plan to you’. Powerswitch is a great way for people to get their head around what will work best for them.

What does the sector think about the role of complaints? 
Customer complaints can provide important information that can drive improvements - so all retailers want to have strong lines of communication with their customer. Of course, complaints can often be used as an indicator of poor performance - so our ideal is having a good relationship with customers that allows retailers to improve things fast. 
But of course, Utilities Disputes has an important role to play where things aren’t resolved quickly.

Are you looking forward to 2019?
Yes, I’m really positive. 2018 was a huge year, and the EPR review in particular was very resource-intensive. It could drive some substantial change, and we’re excited to be part of that in 2019. The great thing is that the review is all about customers – which is exactly where ERANZ wants to be, putting customers at the heart of everything we do.