Electricity rates set to fall for NH utilities in August

By FRANCES MIZE

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 07-08-2023 8:45 PM

LEBANON — Following a year of historically high energy prices, many New Hampshire ratepayers are likely to see a significant reduction in their electric bills beginning Aug. 1.

If approved by the state’s Public Utilities Commission, Eversource’s default electric service rate would be 12.6 cents per kilowatt hour, down from the current 20.2 cents per kilowatt hour. The utility covers parts of Claremont, Cornish, Croydon, Grantham, New London, Newport, Plainfield, Springfield and Sunapee.

Liberty’s rate also would be 12.6 cents, down from 22 cents per kilowatt hour, a spokesperson for the utility told the Valley News in an email. Liberty covers areas of Cornish, Enfield, Grafton, Hanover, Lebanon, Lyme and Plainfield.

The member-owned New Hampshire Electric Co-op electricity rate will be 11.42 cents per kilowatt hour, as approved by its board of directors.

The Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire, or CPCNH, has made good on its assertion that it will procure its members the cheapest rates, coming in with the lowest price: 10.9 cents per kilowatt hour, down from its starting default rate — announced in March — of 15.8 cents per kilowatt hour.

Community power pools the electricity-buying power of municipalities and lets them procure energy for themselves as part of the Lebanon-based nonprofit CPCNH.

Communities in the organization — which include the Upper Valley municipalities of Enfield, Hanover, Lebanon and Plainfield — now represents almost a quarter of the state’s population, and the nonprofit is largely on track to become the third-largest electric supplier in the state, according to a news release last week from CPCNH.

Across the board, the new rates will be in effect through Jan. 31, 2024.

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Following a year of historically high energy bills, the potential relief comes after a challenging period for consumers. Last summer, customers of Liberty Utilities saw the price of electricity doubled to $0.22 per kWh. Customers of other utilities were hit with similar increases.

Ratepayers, particularly those of lower or fixed incomes, couldn’t stretch their dollar as far: The electric rate hikes coincided with rising food and rent costs.

Listen Community Services saw a more than 50% increase in households served by electric grants from its assistance programs.

“I’ve had conversations with a number of people calling here for assistance who never had before and didn’t think they would have to,” said Heather Griffin, Listen’s assistant programs director. Many of the callers were retired, Griffin said, and found that their Social Security income no longer covered basic household costs. “People that maybe weren’t in the best of health were saying they were thinking they’d have to go back to work. Or even saying they wouldn’t be able to afford their phones anymore.”

High electric costs are being passed down to tenants’ rents, Griffin said she had heard from a number of landlords.

While the past few weeks have seen a flurry of news releases from New Hampshire utilities indicating rate draw-downs, Griffin emphasized that this doesn’t mean the financial hardships of the past year are over.

“Is it a relief that the rates are reduced? Yes,” Griffin said. “But a lot of folks will still probably get disconnected, and they won’t have access to those new rates until they catch up and get reconnected. I’m also wondering about landlords who increased their rent due to utility costs — I’m pretty darn sure that doesn’t mean they’ll decrease their rent.”

The fate of New Hampshire ratepayers is tied to factors far beyond the region’s control.

The global market for natural gas — which drives wholesale electricity prices in New England — has been in a state of flux since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year.

“New England is a region kind of unique in the United States in having a dependency on liquefied natural gas,” said Chris Ellms, deputy commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Energy. “We were competing with Europe following the invasion of Ukraine.”

As price volatility cools, that competition has eased. “Not to say that the (Russian) invasion has calmed, but at least in terms of price stability, we’ve seen a significant reduction,” Ellms said.

The low electric prices are a good sign for the New Hampshire residents, said Don Kreis, the state’s consumer advocate.

“I don’t foresee them going much lower, unfortunately,” Kreis added.

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.