Eversource Energy customers in New Hampshire who already are benefiting from the unseasonably warm weather got more good news on December 14, as the utility announced a winter energy supply rate of 9.99 cents per kilowatt hour – a 5 percent reduction from last winter’s price of 10.56 cents/kWh.
A residential customer using 500 kilowatts a month, who was billed $97.16 last winter, will be billed $95.19 this winter. The new rate, which still has to be approved (under Regulatory Order No. 25,844/DE15-477) by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), would be in effect for the six months from January 1 to July 1.
Eversource had predicted in October that the energy supply charge for the first half of 2016 would be 10.39 cents/kWh, but cut that price when it came time for the formal rate filing with the PUC.
Back in October, the utility thought it would have to buy 8 percent of its energy from more expensive renewable sources to comply with the state’s renewable fuels portfolio law, designed to reduce the state’s reliance on fossil fuels. However, on December 2, the PUC issued an order that essentially reduced that requirement to 0.5 percent of retail sales because there simply isn’t enough renewable generation available – particularly from biomass plants – which make more money doing business with utilities in Connecticut.
“Our adjusted filing reflects the lower (renewable) obligation,” said Eversource spokesperson Martin Murray, “a reduction of $12 million in costs.”
Consumers also are enjoying lower forecasts of wholesale energy prices, based on the mild weather, and ample supplies of natural gas for both home heating and to fuel power plants.
New Hampshire ratepayers have seen a big difference between winter and summer prices. The seasonal price swings are tied to the fact that most of the natural gas in the pipelines to New Hampshire gets used up by home heating in the winter, constraining the supply for natural gas power plants and pushing up the cost of electricity.
“Our lower winter energy charge is good news for customers, but the underlying challenge remains,” said Eversource-NH President Bill Quinlan. “New Hampshire and New England pay much more for electricity on average than other parts of the country.”
All other charges on the Eversource electric bill — such as transmission, distribution, system benefit charges and stranded costs — are essentially unchanged for the six months beginning January 1.
The Eversource final rate of 9.99 cents/kWh is the highest of the regulated utilities in the state Liberty Utilities, which serves about 6 percent of the retail customers in New Hampshire, set a winter residential rate of 9.2 cents/kWh, a 40 percent reduction from last winter’s rate of 15.4 cents. Unitil, which serves about 11 percent of the Granite State’s retail customers, recently set a winter rate of 9.4 cents/kWh, 40 percent lower than last winter’s rate of 15.5 cents. And the New Hampshire Electric Coop, serving 11 percent of retail customers, set a winter rate of 9.5 cents/kWh, 18 percent lower than last winter’s rate of 11.6 cents.
Eversource had the lowest winter rate last year, as it benefitted from the sale of electricity generated by its power plants, particularly the coal-fired Merrimack Station in Bow.
The utility would have a lower rate this winter, if not for the fact that an extra 1.72 cents has been added to the Eversource energy supply charge to begin full recovery of the $425 million investment in environmental controls at Merrimack Station.
The PUC is reviewing a proposed agreement between the state and Eversource that would, among other things, remove the cost of the upgrades from the energy supply charge so that Eversource can remain competitive with unregulated energy suppliers.
Electricity consumers in New Hampshire have the right to choose an independent supplier instead of their regulated utility, but need to pay close attention to contract terms. Prices and energy plans can be compared on the PUC website, or at private sites such as shopenergyplans.com.