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NH PUC launches investigation into soaring New England energy prices

Last modified: 4/23/2015 12:22:36 AM
The state Public Utilities Commission is launching an investigation into the state’s high electricity costs, hoping to find solutions.

“Overall, the average retail price of electricity in New England is the highest in the continental United States, posing a threat to our region’s economic competitiveness,” said the PUC order, dated last Monday. “The commission has a fundamental duty to ensure that the rates and charges assessed by (electric distribution companies) are just and reasonable.”

The cost of energy has become a hot-button topic in New Hampshire, as lawmakers, businesses and citizen groups seek solutions to bring down prices.

Utilities announced rate increases across the board last fall, and many customers saw spikes in their winter electric bills.

Electricity costs in January averaged 19 cents per kilowatt-hour for New Hampshire residents, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That compares with the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Many in the energy industry have attributed the high costs to constraints in the region’s natural gas supply. The fuel has risen in popularity because of its cheap cost and abundance. Nearly half of New England’s electricity is now generated by natural gas, compared with just 15 percent in 2000.

The staff investigation will study the gas-resource constraint problem, seeking solutions. The order adds that the “potential development of additional natural gas resources for the benefit of the electricity supply in our region should be carefully considered.”

All New Hampshire utilities will be required to participate in the investigation, including Eversource Energy, Unitil and Liberty Utilities.

The commission will hold a public meeting May 12. Regulators will issue a report by Sept. 15 outlining their findings.

The PUC is already investigating energy efficiency proposals and reviewing how utilities purchase power.

Several natural gas pipeline projects have popped up recently, including a Kinder Morgan proposal that would send about 70 miles of pipeline through southern New Hampshire.

A separate plan, known as Access Northeast, would expand an existing natural gas pipeline that passes along the Seacoast.

Meanwhile, the six New England states are eying measures to reduce energy costs.

Five of the region’s governors will meet in Connecticut today for a forum focused on Regional Energy Solutions.

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan is attending Sheriff Michael Downing’s memorial service today, and is unable to be at the regional meeting.

Staff from the New Hampshire PUC and Office of Energy and Planning will be at the Connecticut forum on Hassan’s behalf, said spokesman William Hinkle.

“Governor Hassan will continue to work to protect the interests of New Hampshire and ensure that our regional partners understand that Granite Staters will have a voice on proposed projects that wish to be sited in our state,” he said.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com or on Twitter 


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