×

My Turn: Why should we believe energy giants?



For the Monitor
Thursday, January 04, 2018

Over the past few weeks I’ve received a lot of emails and links about Eversource and the rates New Englanders pay for gas and electricity. We all have experienced how cold it’s been, and this looks like a perfect winter to really test out the situation.

On Dec. 7, William White, writing for Investorplace, announced that General Electric would cut 12,000 jobs. He quotes the company saying: “The plans announced today are driven by challenges in the power market worldwide. Traditional power markets including gas and coal have softened. Volumes are down significantly in products and services driven by overcapacity, lower utilization, fewer outages, an increase in steam plant retirements and overall growth in renewables.”

Challenges – presumably meaning lower demand – in the power market worldwide, volumes down due to overcapacity and growth in renewables all spell good news for ratepayers. More encouraging still, the Environmental Defense Fund’s economists wrote a press release back on Oct. 11 of a study asserting that New England customers paid $3.6 billion in electric bills because of a regulatory disconnect between natural gas and electricity markets.

EDF senior economist Kristina Mohlin notes that markets haven’t kept up with the dynamic energy situation and have given some utilities excess leverage in determining costs. She continues, “Out-of-date trading systems risk saddling ratepayers with expensive new pipelines the market might not actually need, and they stifle fair competition from cheaper, cleaner, more efficient solutions.”

The researchers pointed to two companies, Eversource and Avangrid, who exhibit patterns of routinely ordering “day-long large deliveries (of natural gas), then sharply reduc(ing) those orders at the last minute.” This is called “down scheduling” and is intended to prevent other companies buying or utilizing the gas, thus limiting the amount of gas on the wholesale market.

If you go to www.puc.nh.gov/ceps/shop.aspx, you will see that Eversource’s rate is substantially higher than Liberty, New Hampshire Electric Co-op or even Unitil. Eversource: $0.11250, Liberty: $0.08644, NHEC: $0.09075, and Unitil: $0.10034.

The response from Eversource was emphatic. On Dec. 11, the Business Wire reported that Eversource put the Environmental Defense Fund on notice that if it didn’t “halt its false and defamatory” statements it would pursue legal action. The Business Wire goes on to say that industry experts (unnamed) discredit the EDF’s analysis because of a lack of understanding of the way companies purchase supplies and of the transmission pipelines needed to deliver the gas. But the Business Wire report doesn’t include any explanation of where the EDF went wrong.

What are we, the ratepayers, supposed to conclude from all this? We already experienced Kinder Morgan and the Tennessee Pipeline Company’s attempts to ram a pipeline through southern New Hampshire to carry far greater quantities of natural gas than New Hampshire could ever use. Natural gas headed for a terminal in Dracut, Mass., would have been piped north to Canada and then overseas for those companies’ profit.

General Electric is laying off workers, so how can that mean that New England is in danger of a dip in power this winter? Surely they’d be hiring in that case. What are we to make of the gas companies’ purchasing practices? If there really were need for more natural gas for heating and power generating, would they regularly cancel deliveries at the last minute? And what about their accusations that the EDF lacks understanding of energy despite its economists and business experts. Frankly, I’d put my money on EDF, and I hope you will too, and continue pushing back against the exploitation by the energy giants.

If you’re the activist type, consider joining the class-action lawsuit filed in November by Hagens Berman against Eversource Energy and Avangrid. You can join the suit at contactus@hbsslaw.com. Every person counts.

(Katharine Gregg is a poet and essayist living in Mason. She can be reached by email at kggregg@myfairpoint.net.)