Supplier suspended from N.E. power grid

December 26, 2013
New Hampshire Union Leader
Mark Hayward

A company that sells electricity to 5,700 New Hampshire customers has been unable to meet its commitments to provide that power, and those customers will end up back with Public Service of New Hampshire by today, the state's largest utility announced on Thursday.

PSNH said it was notified on Tuesday that People's Power and Gas' access to the New England power grid had been suspended. Another company, Easy Energy of Massachusetts, also defaulted, but its customers are not in New Hampshire, PSNH said.

"These suppliers, they're essentially walking away from their customers," PSNH spokesman Michael Skelton said.

Taking advantage of natural gas prices, independent power companies supply electricity at rates lower than those of utility companies.

Efforts to reach People's through email were unsuccessful. Its telephone operators were busy, and its website made no mention of the default on Thursday. But when a reporter sought a quote from PSNH territory, the People's website transmitted an automatic message that read: "It looks like you've got a great rate with your current utility/energy supply company!"

The organization that operates the New England power grid, ISO New England, said it does not comment on specific market participants and suggested a reporter contact the company.

"In general, all market participants who are active in the wholesale electricity markets in New England must maintain a minimum amount of collateral and comply with other financial assurance and billing requirements to participate in the markets," wrote spokeswoman Lacey Ryan.

Skelton said the natural gas market is volatile, especially in New England during the winter months, when prices can jump substantially. For example, a Gorham mill idled its machines for three days earlier this month when gas prices jumped five-fold over those of December 2012.

Last February, the independent supplier PNE Energy Supply was unable to meet its commitments, and its customers, who paid about 2 cents less for each kilowatt-hour of energy, defaulted back to PSNH.

In order for PNE to return to the New Hampshire market, the Public Utilities Commission told PNE to pay its customers $9.50 each, an amount that added up to $70,000. Consumer advocates had objected to the penalty as being too low.

Messages left with the PUC and the Office of Consumer Advocate were not returned.

Skelton said the People's Power customers will experience no interruption of service, and they should be on PSNH accounts by this morning. PSNH did not include the 5,700 customers in its forecasts, but Skelton said the utility has become the safety net for power supply in the state.

"We're here to serve everybody, no matter what the circumstances," he said.

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