Already paying some of the highest energy costs in the country, New Hampshire taxpayers will soon be paying much more.
According to a filing with the Public Utilities Commission, Liberty Utilities is seeking approval for an increase in the default residential energy rate from 8.393 cents per kilowatt hour to 22.223 cents per kilowatt hour.
Donald Kreis of the New Hampshire Consumer Advocate’s Office said the net effect of charging will be that Granite Staters using Liberty can expect to pay nearly 50% more for electricity when the new tariff will come into effect in August.
“This means that a typical bill for a Liberty Utilities residential electric customer will increase nearly 47% from its current level,” Kreis said on Twitter.
Granite staters are already paying the seventh highest residential electricity rates in the country.
Liberty has approximately 43,000 electric customers in New Hampshire. Kreis said Eversource, New Hampshire’s major electricity provider, is expected to seek a similar rate increase soon before the PUC.
“To my knowledge, these huge default utility prices are unprecedented since NH dismantled its vertically integrated electric utilities over 20 years ago,” he wrote on Twitter.
He said on Twitter that the reason for the rate increase was the rising cost of natural gas, which electrical supplies use to generate needed electricity.
“In New England, we rely on natural gas for the majority of our electricity. Natural gas futures prices for the coming winter have reached $30 per mmBTU. Wholesale electricity providers have incorporated these natural gas increases into their offerings,” he wrote.
Reached Wednesday, Kreis said New Hampshire doesn’t have a robust natural gas market for homeowners, the state uses a lot of natural gas to power power plants, like the Granite Ridge Power Station in Londonderry.
Unitil, one of two other electric utilities in the state, currently has rates of about 10.3 cents per kilowatt hour and has a different rate schedule than the other two companies. New Hampshire Electric Cooperative, the state’s second-largest utility, plans to adjust its power rate later this summer.
“It’s safe to say that we’re seeing the same dynamic in the wholesale electricity market in New England. Summer supply costs have increased significantly over last year, primarily due to huge increases in the price of natural gas, which is used to generate about half of New England’s electricity,” said Seth Wheeler, NHEC Communications Administrator.
Rate increases from Liberty and Eversource far exceed US Energy Information Administration forecasts. The winter forecast for electricity saw New England prices rise closer to 16%, not 47%.
“We expect summer increases in retail residential electricity prices to range from a 2.4% increase in the Central Southwest region to a 16.1% increase in New England,” the report said. EIA forecasts.
Kreis said utilities buy electricity from suppliers in six-month increments and the rate increases reflect the increase in prices they pay for electricity under the new six-month contracts, which will begin in August. There won’t be another chance to change prices until next year, which means prices will stay high until 2023.
New Hampshire elected officials have taken notice.
On Wednesday, Governor Chris Sununu and Department of Energy Commissioner Jared Chicoine announced that, for the first time ever, the state plans to use funding from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program ( LIHEAP) to help struggling households pay summer electricity costs. Funding will be channeled through the New Hampshire Fuel Assistance Program for Prequalified Low-Income Households.
“We are allocating $7.5 million in funds to provide low-income families with assistance to help cool their homes this summer,” Governor Chris Sununu said. “Due to unprecedented spending by Washington that has triggered record inflation, uncertainty in the energy market following President Biden’s anti-domestic energy policies, and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, oil prices energy are skyrocketing across the country.While states can do little to stave off federal inaction, we are doing what we can at the state level to ease the burden on low-income families.
Details of the plan, including the exact amount of funding available per family, are still being worked out.
“The Department of Energy is working diligently with stakeholders to provide summer electricity bill assistance to currently eligible LIHEAP customers,” said Department of Energy Commissioner Jared Chicoine. “We hope this aid will help provide relief to consumers in these difficult times.”
Kreis said that in the short term, consumers should seek out competitive electricity suppliers and pressure their municipalities to enter into electricity aggregation agreements to reduce costs. They can also apply for state energy efficiency programs.
New Hampshire energy consumers are also anticipating a harsh winter. Home heating oil is selling for nearly $6 a gallon, down from an average of about $4.50 a gallon last winter and $3 a gallon from the previous season. Relief is still a long way off, as the EIA expects the 2023 winter season to bring fuel oil to less than $4 a gallon.
Craig Stevens, spokesman for the energy and business coalition, Grow America’s Infrastructure Now, said Democratic environmental and energy policies, such as restricting domestic energy production, have driven prices up.
“Rising electricity prices are, unfortunately, far too predictable given the energy policies of the last two Democratic administrations promised – and have since delivered – to Americans. Between Presidents Obama and Biden, they forced the shutdown of power plants across the country, made the siting and construction of transmission lines virtually impossible, halted the expansion of pipelines and shut down national power generation,” Stevens said.
“We need more than wishy-washy rhetoric, empty promises and accusations; we need a comprehensive energy policy – all of the above – that recognizes our current energy needs and the growing energy needs of our increasingly electrified economy.
With prices likely to stay high through next year, Kreis said New Hampshire ultimately needs to diversify how it generates electricity to avoid another year like 2022.