Jun. 19—Eversource has proposed a dramatic hike in the cost of electricity for New Hampshire customers, more than doubling the price per kilowatt-hour, from 10.7 cents to 22.6 cents — and the utility warned bills will rise significantly.
A typical home using 600 kilowatt hours of power each month will see a bill increase of approximately $71.39 per month, according to a statement from Eversource, with the price of electricity soaring with the price of the natural gas much of New England uses to generate power.
Eversource pointed to the war in Ukraine, spiking demand and extreme weather as the major factors driving the price spike. Liberty Utilities announced a similar rate hike earlier this week.
Because other charges on an electric bill are not rising, state consumer advocate Donald Kreis said customers' total bills could rise about 53%, though the price of energy is rising by over 100%.
The price of electricity is set after Eversource and other utilities collect bids from electricity wholesalers, and settle on the lowest price offered by bidders. The charge to consumers is the same as the price paid by Eversource — utility companies do not make a profit on that part of the bill.
When Eversource announced price increases for customers in Connecticut and Massachusetts earlier this month, some balked, noting the utility's profits increased 21% in the first three months of 2022.
New Hampshire and New England as a whole rely heavily on natural gas for electricity. On Friday afternoon, more than 59% of the power being used in the region was coming from natural gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, with another 21% coming from nuclear energy and much of the remainder from hydropower, wind and solar.
"What we have here, at the macro level, is certain chickens coming home to roost," Kreis said. Natural gas was cheap for a long time, Kreis said, so we invested heavily in natural gas-powered electricity generation — and heat.
Because New Hampshire and New England rely heavily on natural gas for heat as well as electricity, Kreis said he expected prices to stay high this winter.
Timing shapes price
The increase proposed for New Hampshire would leave Granite Staters who use Eversource with higher prices than the utility's customers in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Company spokesman William Hinkle said the differences in price between states were a quirk of timing in today's highly-volatile energy market.
In Massachusetts and Connecticut, rates for the summer were set weeks ago — and during that time, energy prices have risen even further.
Kreis said that because Unitil, another electric utility in New Hampshire, also set its prices weeks ago, their costs are also lower — for now.
What to do?
Eversource and Kreis both said the simplest way for consumers to reduce their energy bills is to use less electricity.
New Hampshire's energy efficiency program, NHSaves, offers small rebates on energy-efficient appliances, energy-use audits and help with weatherization, and general tips for using less power.
Eversource also urged customers to try to use less electricity, and directed people to its website for tips.
Low-income Granite Staters can access help from both the company and government programs to get help paying bills and paying down past-due balances. People can call the electric company or their local Community Action agencies to be connected to those resources. Only low-income people qualify for fuel-assistance programs, with the cutoff being 60% or less of the state's median income — about $74,000 per year for a family of four.
On Wednesday, some members of the Executive Council urged Gov. Chris Sununu to look at expanding eligibility for fuel assistance. New Hampshire's Congressional delegation added their voices Friday to calls to expand fuel aid programs in the state.
In the long-term, Kreis said he wanted to see utilities re-think the way they acquire power from wholesalers, and think about whether it makes sense to get so much electricity from natural gas, given the volatility of the price and how many global factors — from wars to extreme storms — can push the price higher.
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