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April 28, 2013

PSNH loses customers to startups

Startups grabbing PSNH's customers by the thousands

New Hampshire residential customers by the thousands are unplugging from the state’s largest power utility, Public Service of New Hampshire, in favor of supplier startups.

Maine-based ENH Power, which has offices in Portsmouth, has picked up 54,000 customers from established New Hampshire utility companies, primarily PSNH, since last summer, owner Kevin Dean said.

“We’re going to do another 50,000 this year,” Dean said. “This time next year, I would be happy with 150,000.”

PSNH estimates 50,000 residential customers from a 500,000 customer base are now using so-called competitive electric power suppliers.

More than a decade after the state moved to deregulation, industry executives and observers attribute the surge in competition to many factors. Those include cheaper natural gas, new customer service technology, even social media spreading a gospel of savings.

But mostly it’s the price of natural gas that’s enabling the startups — for the moment — to supply power more cheaply than PSNH.

“What has changed is the economics,” PSNH spokesman Martin Murray said.

Call it competition.

“Now that natural gas is at historical lows that has created a lot of opportunity for competition,” said Bryan Lee, spokesman for Retail Energy Supply Association.

“The simple answer is natural gas,” said Dennis Delay of the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, an economist who used to work for PSNH. “The cost of producing power is lower.”

Dean estimates the average PSNH residential customer saves 24 percent by moving to ENH Power.

Jay Forgione of Derry said he made the move from PSNH to ENH Power more than a year ago. He’s glad he did.

“I did notice the monthly bills were a lot lower than before,” Forgione said. “I’d say, like, $5 to $10 a month.”

Peter Langlois of Derry switched at the end of last year.

“I’m saving around 20 percent,” Langlois said, reviewing his bills. “Any chance to save money is a good thing.”

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