According to new numbers filed with the state’s Public Utilities Commission, a little less than 56 percent of the electricity sold to consumers in the service territory of the state’s largest utility, Public Service of New Hampshire, came from competitive suppliers. That number peaked at 58 percent last October before dropping to 49 percent in February thanks to soaring winter electric market prices.
“This could be a plateau, we did see some leveling off of the migration numbers in late 2013, and then we saw a big reversal,” says Martin Murray, PSNH spokesman.
The energy purchased by switchers has hovered between 49 percent and 57 percent for the better part of a year and a half, after having climbed rapidly from October of 2010 to 2012.
As customers leave Public Service, those who remain shoulder a higher share of the fixed costs of PSNH’s power plants, and this year the Public Utilities Commission is set to begin a review of market conditions in New Hampshire. The ultimate goal of the investigation will be to determine if PSNH should be required to sell its power plants and leave the competitive market.
How many of PSNH’s customers have switched varies wildly by type. Large Commercial and Industrial users have almost all left “default service” years ago, with competitive suppliers now serving around 95 percent of that energy load.
Residential customers on the other hand have been more difficult to coax into alternatives. In that sector, competition really only began in earnest in late 2012, and competitive suppliers are providing 25 percent of the energy flowing to homes in PSNH's territory.
That number has remained relatively stable for the last 12 months, and is substantially lower than in other states, according to Kevin Dean co-owner of ENH power, a competitive supplier based in Maine. Dean says 45 percent of residential customers in Connecticut and 33 percent in Maine have become part of the “switching public.”
He thinks some of the stories of customers who were on variable electric rates when prices spiked over the winter – resulting in huge electric bills – are part of the reason that residential customers switching have stalled.
“I think there’s people are a little bit of gun-shy,” says Dean, “It’ll take them a little bit of time to come out and trust again.”
Whether residential customers and small businesses do come out and trust again will in large part determine whether switching has indeed plateaued, or whether it – and the pressure it puts on PSNH rates – will continue.
**Note: An earlier version of this story said that 56 percent of customers had switched from PSNH to competitors. This is not correct: the number is the percentage of energy purchased by customers that is provided by PSNH competitors. The article has been changed to correct this mistake.**