Unitil predicts higher electricity costs this winter

 

Unitil is expecting its average customer’s electricity bill to increase by about $42 per month this winter, making it the latest utility to announce a significant price spike heading into the winter season.

The company filed for a rate change with the state’s Public Utilities Commission yesterday and expects an order of decision in October, said company spokesman Alec O’Meara.

If approved, the company’s energy charge will nearly double, increasing to 15.5 cents per kilowatt-hour from the current 8.4 cents. The new rate would take effect Dec. 1.

The average Unitil customer uses 600 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month. Those who use more will see their monthly bill rise even higher than the estimated $42 increase. Unitil has 75,000 customers across the state, and covers the Concord area, including Bow and Canterbury.

That rate increase is based on bids Unitil receives from generation facilities that supply electricity, O’Meara said. “We don’t really have control over the bids we receive,” he said.

The energy charge will increase to 11.6 cents per kilowatt-hour from the current rate of 8.97 cents. The Co-op’s board sets the rate change.Also this week, New Hampshire Electric Co-op announced it is raising rates this winter. Beginning Oct. 1, Co-op consumers using 500 kilowatt-hours per month can expect their monthly bills to increase by roughly $12.50, said company spokesman Seth Wheeler.

Earlier this week, Liberty Utilities announced its energy charge will nearly double, to 15.4 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity, from the current rate of 7.73 cents. That rate will take effect Nov. 1.

Public Service of New Hampshire hasn’t officially filed with the PUC, but earlier this month the company projected its rates would stay relatively stable. PSNH will file in December for a rate change that will take effect Jan. 1.

Both the Co-op and Unitil said the upcoming rate increases are due largely to the region’s limited natural gas pipeline capacity.

Roughly half of the power plants in New England use natural gas to generate electricity, up from 15 percent in 2000, according to the regional grid operator ISO-New England.

In the wintertime, the competition over natural gas for home heating and power generation increases, and home heating gets priority.

“Whatever is left, generators will use in some cases, although if there’s not enough supply they have to switch to another fuel,” Wheeler said.

The bottom line, he said, is that there’s inadequate pipeline capacity into New England, and it is affecting rates.

“Until there can be some movement on this front or a new power generation source, this will probably a winter phenomena that keeps occurring,” Wheeler said.

 

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)