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August 27. 2013 12:24AM

Did PSNH hold $100,000 in PNE customer money?

CONCORD — The Public Utilities Commission has agreed to open an investigation into allegations that Public Service of New Hampshire is holding on to nearly $100,000 in customer payments for energy supply provided by Power New England.

“It appears to the commission that there may be a basis for the PNE dispute,” PUC Executive Director Debra A. Howland wrote in a letter to both parties dated Aug. 8.

As a result, the commission has directed its staff to conduct an investigation and report on the matter on or before Sept. 30. PSNH and PNE will then have until Oct. 15 to respond, after which the commission will decide whether or not to hold oral arguments in the case.

The dispute stems from a two-week period in February, from Feb. 14-28, when Power New England defaulted on its payments to the Independent System Operator of the New England power grid, and was temporarily kicked out of the wholesale energy market.

The company eventually paid up and its license to serve as a competitive energy supplier was restored. During the two-week period, however, PSNH had to take back many of the customers affected by the default, some of whom later chose a different competitive supplier, some went back to Power New England and some stayed with PSNH.

PSNH bills customers for all charges, including energy supply, and is supposed to forward the energy supply payments to the competitive supplier if the customer is not a PSNH energy customer, minus a small fee for administration.

PSNH claims the administrative burden created by the default and a last-minute request by PNE to transfer customers to FairPoint Energy resulted in $93,000 in additional expense.

Gus Fromuth, managing partner at PNE, said the utility actually collected $250,000 in energy supply payments from PNE’s 8,500 customers in the two-week period, and initially held back the entire amount. “They returned $150,000 after we threatened legal action,” he said.

PSNH spokesman Martin Murray said the utility has provided detailed invoices that will support the $93,000 at issue.

dsolomon@unionleader.com