Liberty Seeks to Double Rate

Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Lebanon — The roughly 21,000 customers in the Upper Valley who purchase electricity through Liberty Utilities could see a nearly 50 percent increase in their bill come November.

The utility has asked state regulators for permission to double its energy charge per kilowatt-hour of electricity from 7.7 cents to 15.4 cents.

“The high cost of electricity that is expected this winter is largely due to the insufficient natural gas pipeline system in New England,” Liberty Utilities spokesman John Shore said in a news release announcing the increase this week.

In an interview on Tuesday, Shore said an increase in demand for natural gas in the winter months reduces the volume of fuel available through the pipeline, forcing electricity producers to use higher-priced fuels to generate electricity.

“That drives up the price for the whole market,” Shore said.

Liberty Utilities doesn’t generate its own electricity — it purchases it in a marketplace; therefore, it doesn’t have influence over price, Shore said.

“The bids come in at what they come in at, and then we make our best effort to provide the lowest cost,” Shore said. “We know that it is going to be a hardship for customers and we want to try and help as much as we can.”

Liberty Utilities’ average residential customers — those who use roughly 655 kilowatt-hours a month — would see their monthly electricity bill increase by about $50 overall under the proposed rates.

“The more you use, the more you will be impacted,” Shore said, noting all 43,000 residential and commercial customers served by Liberty Utilities would be impacted. The utility serves customers in many Upper Valley towns, including an area spanning from Cornish to Hanover and east to Grafton.

The Public Utilities Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing on Liberty’s rate increase request at 9 a.m. today, and will likely rule on the matter later this week. If the commission OKs the change, the increase would take effect Nov. 1.

In comparison, Liberty Utilities charged 6.6 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity in the summer of 2013, which rose to 8.9 cents during the winter.

Liberty Utilities is encouraging users to look into the company’s assistance programs, such as those available for low-income customers. Shore said there also are rebate programs that reimburse customers for making energy efficiency upgrades, for example.

Listen Community Services Executive Director Merilynn Bourne said when utility rates increase, it affects the number of households to which the center can offer assistance.

“It is more money out of our pocket and fewer people we can help,” Bourne said on Tuesday, noting that the center works with Liberty Utilities as well as other service providers. “The money is not infinite.”

Listen assisted over 400 households with utility payments last year, spending roughly $150,000 on heating oil, propane and electricity.

Public Service of New Hampshire, which serves some customers in the Newport/Claremont area, as well as Lyme, Orford, Piermont and Haverhill, won’t file for a rate change with the Public Utilities Commission until December — something that is done by most utility companies twice a year.

A company official told the Concord Monitor that it predicted its winter rate would remain relatively steady at roughly 9.6 cents per kilowatt-hour.

PSNH generates the electricity it sells, Shore noted, meaning it has more control over the price.

Another New Hampshire provider, the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative, serves a limited area in more than 15 Upper Valley towns, including Plainfield, Canaan, Lyme, Sunapee and Unity. It currently charges about 9 cents per kilowatt-hour.

While customers can’t switch to another distribution company because the utilities have set franchise areas, users do have alternatives.

New Hampshire allows residents to choose a third-party electricity supplier. In a third-party situation, a customer would agree on a price per kilowatt-hour with another company, and in most cases, Liberty would bill the customer and pay the third party its share, Shore said.

The Public Utilities Commission has a list of more than a dozen third-party residential utility companies listed on its website, which can be accessed at

Because Liberty Utilities would physically distribute the electricity, the customer would pay the third party’s energy rate as well as Liberty’s distribution charge, which are the two main components of an electric bill.

“Having competition has an effect on price, as it is another place where a customer can go,” Shore said.

Materials from a Concord Monitor story were used in this report.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at or 603-727-3248.

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