"I suspect our electricity industry is structured differently to the UK. The companies that sell electricity to (most) consumers are retailers. Retailers buy electricity at spot price, and sell it for, literally, whatever they want. There are (last I looked) about 27 retailers in New Zealand. Its a competitive space."
Well, NZ is a vastly different power market than the UK, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, every country is unique, so power market (and economy yaddda yadda) are always going to be different. Both NZ and the UK+Ireland are nations of islands, both produce oil and gas, and both are roughly the same area, and similar climate (YMMV) but broadly speaking higher demand winters, lower demand summers. But there are massive differences in scale of population (total and density), industrial uses, and resource dependance.
NZ produces a vast amount of it's power from hydro. 57% last count, and that's declining from 70+. IMHO they shouldn't have been mothballing off generating stations, but that's part of the whole marketisation exercise. The running and variable cost of inputs of it's generation are quite different to a thermal plant, less warmup, your "fuel" is either off or on without* extra cost. Quite a lot more maintenance that's less convenient than thermal plants, but in general hydro is really very very good, and about as nice as you'll get for a renewable. It's just not very transportable, and you can't really plonk down in an arbitary spot. If we could knock up a Manapouri for every major industrial site it solves a lot of transmission and load balancing issues. I'm sure someone who does actual engineering might know better, is building a powerstation next to each major energy user the best way to solve things?
NZ has also until very recently had most of the major players in the generation and supply of wholesale markets belong either to the government, or the government be the majority shareholder. What happens in 5-10 years time, after sufficient "competative pressure" has been brought to bear, will result in higher prices and less security of supply.
NZ is on it's own for supply. It can import fuel, and extract plenty for local consumption down to retail level (innapropriate heating with LPG causing deaths) but it has no access to other countries power markets. Hence generation and supply was run by the government for many years. Parts still are. The splitting it into various parts has been either a huge failure (if you're a consumer) or a great success (if a shareholder). With a stalinist diktat run feethly socialist power construction and generation NZ had the second lowest price of retail power in the OECD. Now it's nearer the middle, not because other countries got cheaper. That's the competitive market for you, same product, twice the price. Only in this case, your tax dollars already paid for every single part of it.
Now, since it may seem as I'm knocking you, you DO have a very valid point. For the people who are already being fucked by the power companies (it's the poor. It's always the poor. That's why they stay that way) then replacing their pre-pay meter with any plan that charges like a normal retail customer is a massive step up. Doesn't require a smart meter for that. Can also see why you'd use them as a pilot group, since it's always going to be better afterwards, and you can get some feedback on how much a fucking pain installing smart meters is.
*water rights and usage in NZ is a whole 'nother can of worms.