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Heating bills to rise this winter for N.H. natural-gas customers

The rising cost of natural gas will likely mean higher heating bills for many New Hampshire residents this winter.

Last week, the Public Utilities Commission approved new winter rates for the state’s two major natural-gas utilities: Liberty Utilities, which has about 87,000 customers in central and southern New Hampshire, plus Berlin; and Northern Utilities, a Unitil subsidiary with roughly 29,000 customers in and around the Seacoast.

The new rates mean the average home heating bill will increase an estimated 10.4 percent for a Liberty Utilities customer and 9.8 percent for a Northern Utilities customer, as compared with last winter, according to PUC filings.

Both companies cited rising commodity costs as the primary reason for their rate increases – rising demand for natural gas, combined with limited supply in New England.

The new rates took effect Friday and run through the end of April. The PUC, in the orders dated Thursday, gave both companies permission to adjust the rates up or down by as much as 25 percent as needed.

About 20 percent of New Hampshire homes in 2012 relied on gas utilities for heat, according to a U.S. Census Bureau estimate. Nearly half, 47 percent, used fuel oil, and the rest used propane gas, wood, electricity or another source.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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