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March 05. 2013 9:14PM

PUC will hear case against PSNH

CONCORD ­- Competitive electricity suppliers in New Hampshire will get their chance to argue before the Public Utilities Commission that PSNH is impeding the transfer of customers through unreasonable charges for administrative services like account transfers and billing.

Though a customer can choose a competitive provider for the energy service portion of the bill, PSNH has to initiate the transfer and continues the billing.

The key issues are a $5 per customer charge that PSNH levies for each transfer, and a collection service charge equal to 0.25 percent of a competitive supplier's total monthly receivables. Like any bill collector, PSNH takes a portion of debt that it collects on behalf of competitors.

In a petition filed with the PUC in October, Power New England claimed PSNH's charges to competitive suppliers are out of line with similar charges in other New England states, "including charges by PSNH's own affiliates in Massachusetts and Connecticut."

In an order issued Tuesday, the PUC agreed to hear the case, dismissing a PSNH appeal to drop the matter since PNE operations were suspended recently by the independent system operator for the New England power grid. Other competitive providers petitioned to join the case as intervenors, including the Retail Energy Supply Association, ENH Power and North American Power and Gas.

In the order, the regulatory agency states the competitive suppliers have "each made a persuasive argument that PSNH's current competitive supplier charges bear investigation, given the developing competitive markets for residential and small electric customers in the PSNH service territory ... Accordingly, this investigation will proceed and the parties should propose a procedural schedule assuming that PNE will not participate, unless and until it is reinstated as a qualified market participant in the ISO-NE market."

PNE was suspended by the independent system operator for New England after it ran into financial problems and could not assure enough energy contracts to service its customers. The company was in the process of selling its customer accounts to FairPoint Energy and has accused PSNH of dragging its feet in that process ­- charges PSNH has vehemently denied.

PSNH writes in its response that the charges described in the PNE petition were approved by the commission in 2000 as part of the PSNH restructuring settlement and cannot be overturned in isolation, but would have to be considered as part of an overall rate case. According to PSNH, such single-issue rate-making is forbidden.

The competitive suppliers believe the PUC has the authority to examine the charges. ENH Power estimates that PSNH has generated $150,000 in switching charges in connection with the "migration" of more than 30,000 customers to competitive suppliers.

"The commission should investigate whether these funds exceed PSNH's actual costs of providing such services," according to ENH.

dsolomon@unionleader.com



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