PSNH competitor goes dark, for now

Last modified: 2/20/2013 12:23:25 AM
One of the first companies to offer homeowners a cheaper alternative to Public Service of New Hampshire is out of the energy business and 8,500 of its customers are headed back to PSNH, at least temporarily.

The switch won’t leave customers without power, but it means they will have to act quickly if they want control over who keeps their lights on. Unclear yesterday was whether the sudden change was voluntary.

Power New England, based in Manchester, told customers in mid-February that it was transferring its business to FairPoint Energy of Connecticut, according to its website. The company did not explain the change in the notice, but filings with the state Public Utilities Commission indicate the two companies had “entered a purchase and sales agreement” earlier this month.

But a spokesman for PSNH said yesterday that Power New England has been “suspended” from the energy market. Martin Murray said he did not know the reason for the suspension but that the PUC has ordered PSNH to resume service to the 8,500 customers until it can move them to FairPoint.

Power New England customers can choose a different supplier, but they must do it before their meters are read next, Murray said. Otherwise, they will become FairPoint customers.

“We do not agree that it ‘should’ happen,” Murray said. “We believe (Power New England customers) should be treated like any other . . . customer and have the opportunity to solicit, or be solicited, by another energy provider.”

Gus Fromuth, who is part owner of Power New England, said yesterday that Power New England ran into a cash flow problem and agreed to sell its “customer book” to FairPoint. Fromuth said he expects Power New England will resolve its money problems and resume buying and selling power within 10 to 15 days.

ISO-New England, which regulates the regional energy grid, said it could not comment on a specific company. But spokeswoman Marcia Blomberg suggested that Power New England had run into financial problems.

“In general, all market participants who are active in the wholesale electricity markets in New England must maintain a minimum amount of collateral and comply with other financial assurance and billing requirements to participate in the markets,” said Blomberg in an email.

Business customers have left PSNH for alternative power providers in large numbers, but residential customers have only begun migrating to other companies for a little over a year. Murray said Power New England was one of the first companies to offer residential customers a choice.

Murray said yesterday that for years the alternative providers offered customers a lower price thanks to natural gas. That’s changed, he said, since the supply of natural gas hasn’t kept up with demand, and prices have spiked.

North American Power, based in Connecticut, has also entered the New Hampshire energy market and currently has 17,000 customers. Taff Tschamler, senior vice president for business development, said Power New England’s departure from the energy market should not give customers pause about the reliability of PSNH competitors.

“The fact is the market systems are working the way they were intended,” he said through a spokeswoman. “No one’s lights went out and the process is working. We look forward to working with PSNH and the PUC to advance the market and help more and more customers choose lower prices in the weeks and years to come.”

Fromuth is also part owner of Residential Power, which aggregates customers interested in an alternative energy provider. He was using Power New England to provide that power.

“I think the competitive market choice is robust,” he said. “Nobody in the market is going to suffer any injury as a result of what happened to (Power New England.) I think it’s a little early to be burying the alternative retail market.”

This is an updated version of the original story.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)


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