It’s another spring in New Hampshire, and the slow death of Public Service Company of New Hampshire’s (PSNH) coal-fired business model continues, as do PSNH’s efforts to hold back reality and hold on to its regulatory protection from competition. More and more PSNH customers are choosing cleaner, cheaper energy options, the company is again getting special treatment as it initiates a strange new program to lure those fleeing customers back, and its dirty and inefficient coal plants are once again sitting idle, with PSNH customers still paying for their upkeep.
Increasing Choices for PSNH Customers
PSNH (and shareholders of PSNH’s parent company, Northeast Utilities) must be wondering when the rate of residential customers abandoning PSNH’s energy service will slow. It certainly wasn’t during the first three months of 2013, when the number of households purchasing power from PSNH’s competitors topped 49,000. By comparison, that number was 2,704 at the end of March 2012.
The number of small businesses migrating away from PSNH has steadily increased, from 11,194 in March 2012 to 16,919 this March. Of course, PSNH’s medium and large commercial customers have been taking advantage of competitive suppliers since long before it was a practical option for residents, and they move back and forth from PSNH and the competitors much more frequently; in any given month, between 75% and 90%+ of medium and large businesses purchase their power from PSNH’s competitors.
We last checked in on PSNH’s accelerating death spiral in January, highlighting the historically low use of its coal plants to produce power and the flight of customers away from PSNH’s ballooning rates. The utility’s ancient, filthy coal plants are sitting idle for large stretches of time during the year, at substantial cost to ratepayers, because PSNH is able to recover its costs and a guaranteed profit from its customers even when it isn’t economic to put the plants online. Despite a winter when the spot market price of natural gas was very volatile, PSNH’s coal plants provided no economic relief to its customers, as its energy rates remained almost 40% higher than those offered by other New Hampshire utilities and energy suppliers.
In response to the huge disadvantage posed by PSNH’s coal plants, the competitive atmosphere has continued to flourish in New Hampshire’s energy market in 2013. We’ve previously highlighted the residential energy services offered by companies like ENH Power and North American Power, and still more companies are hurrying to take advantage of PSNH’s above-market rates by siphoning off customers. As the Union Leader recently reported, four new competitive suppliers have applied for licensing with the NH Public Utilities Commission already this year.
The “Alternative Default Rate”
Looking to secure a special deal to protect itself from its new competitors, PSNH applied for and received [PDF] regulator approval to pilot an “alternative default rate” to lure back customers who had switched to other suppliers. The alternative rate will only be available to large commercial customers at first, with small businesses and residential customers to be added to the program within nine months.
After the increased public awareness of competitive electricity supply in NH around the end of 2012 rate hike, the press and public were quick to take note of this plan, and customers who stayed with PSNH through the January rate hike feel doubly burned.
Saving by Switching
After PSNH’s astronomical rate hike in January, the energy rates offered competitive suppliers like ENH Power and North American Power should be even more attractive to PSNH customers who were previously cautious about making the switch. And switching online is easy, free, and safe: it takes a matter of minutes if you have a copy of your latest PSNH bill handy.
As spring turns to summer, and PSNH’s troubles grow, the ongoing challenge remains: to ensure that clean energy competition continues to flourish in the Granite State and that PSNH does not secure a legislative or regulatory bailout that subsidizes its dying business model. Although PSNH doesn’t seem willing to change its terrible economic decision to keep operating its coal plants, New Hampshire residents and businesses are taking matters into their own hands and deciding to do something about it.