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December 30. 2013 8:56PM

Energy firm no longer in default but still without New Hampshire customers

An energy supply company that was suspended from the wholesale electricity market on Christmas Eve has restored its credit with the operator of the New England power grid, ending a default that lasted less than a week.

People's Power and Gas, with offices in Florida, Connecticut and New York, defaulted with ISO-NE on Dec. 24, as energy prices on the spot market soared due to high demand for natural gas.

The company's energy supply customers in New Hampshire were immediately transferred to the regulated utility in their part of the state to ensure uninterrupted service.

Of the approximately 6,000 PPG customers in New Hampshire, 5,700 are now PSNH energy supply customers, 180 are back with the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative and fewer than 150 were assigned to Unitil.

The regulated utilities provide energy supply at rates controlled by the Public Utilities Commission. Customers can choose to buy energy supply from an unregulated competitor, even though the regulated utility continues to bill the customer and deliver the power.

Easy Energy of Massachusetts, which has only a handful of New Hampshire customers, also defaulted last week, and its customers were turned over to the appropriate regulated utilities.

People's Power remains an authorized competitive electric supplier in New Hampshire, even though it has lost all of its New Hampshire customers for now, according to Amanda Noonan, director of the Consumer Affairs Division at the PUC.

"The state did not take any action on People's Power and Gas registration," she said. "Although there is a five-day waiting period before they can go back into service."

According to a notice from ISO, People's Power was suspended on Dec. 23 and "cured" its default on Dec. 26.

"The default was only temporary, but PSNH, in its eagerness to present more bad news about energy retailers, told the story of a default before it was validated by subsequent actions," said Gus Fromuth, managing partner at Power New England (PNE), which experienced a similar temporary default when gas prices spiked in February, affecting more than 8,000 customers.

"We knew this winter was going to be challenging from the experience of last winter," he said.

Noonan said her office has received several phone calls from PPG customers, concerned about their electric service. Those customers now have the choice of remaining with their regulated utility, or going back into the open market, where suppliers offer a variety of plans, including fixed and variable rates.

People's Power was offering a variable rate that spiked to 18 cents per kwh in December for many customers, compared to a PSNH energy service charge of 9.23 cents per kwh starting Jan. 1.

PSNH spokesman Martin Murray said the PPG and Easy Energy defaults could be just the start of a tough winter ahead.

"When those two suppliers defaulted, we were only two days into winter, and we have a big stretch of cold weather up ahead," he said. "It would not be shocking to see some others challenged financially simply because the region is so dependent on natural gas."

ISO-NE on Monday issued a cold-weather watch for Jan. 3 for all New England, suggesting another jump in wholesale electricity prices may be just around the corner.

dsolomon@unionleader.com



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