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Liberty Utilities set to double its price for electricity

Power utility lines
Dan Tuohy
Power grid: Utility lines

This story was originally produced by the New Hampshire Bulletin, an independent local newsroom that allows NHPR and other news outlets to republish its reporting.

One of the New Hampshire’s major utilities is set to double the price of electricity in August, and it’s likely other utilities will be forced to raise their prices, too. The price hikes are being driven by projected high costs of natural gas.

In a Monday filing with the Public Utilities Commission, Liberty Utilities proposed increasing the per kilowatt hour price of electricity from 11.11 cents, the rate in effect from February to July of this year, to 22.23 cents starting in July.

That means a typical household would see a 47 percent increase in its electric bill, according to consumer advocate Don Kreis. (Other charges on the bill would remain unchanged.) A household currently paying $150 per month would see their electricity increase to $220 per month.

“I think people are really going to feel this in their pocketbooks. It’s going to be a very unpleasant winter for everyone in New Hampshire,” said Kreis, adding that low prices for natural gas have lulled the state and region into complacency over the last decade.

Those low prices have evaporated, with some natural gas prices reaching $8.78 per British thermal unit in May, the highest they’ve been since 2008. Projections show that cost more than tripling to $30 per Btu.

New England depends on natural gas to both generate electricity and heat homes and businesses, and increasing prices are driving up costs for both. The highest prices coincide with cold winter months, when natural gas is in demand for home heating.

Kreis expects the commission will approve the proposed rates sometime this week, since the process has followed the typical path for adjusting electric rates. What’s atypical is “the extraordinarily high price” of electricity, representing the biggest rate increase to Kreis’ knowledge since the utilities were deregulated in 1996.

The state’s largest utility, Eversource, is expected to submit a similar filing soon that will likely also reflect a significant increase in rates. Another state utility, Unitil, is on a different schedule for adjusting its rates, and in June set its summer rates to 10.12 cents, 3 cents higher than it had been the year prior. The more expensive winter pricing, which will need to factor in the high cost of natural gas, won’t take effect until December.

The proposed rate increase comes on the heels of an expensive winter heating season and means energy costs are likely to remain a challenge in the winter ahead.

“I can just hope that it will spur us to become more innovative and creative and interested in ways of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels for one thing, and our reliance on energy generally for another,” Kreis said.

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