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Natural gas costs will push electric rates up

Demand, lack of capacity cited

Many Massachusetts electric customers can expect an increase in their monthly bills this winter, the result of the region’s increasing dependence on natural gas for power and heating and a lack of pipeline capacity to keep up with demand.

Two-thirds of Massachusetts’ electricity and more than half of New England’s power is generated by natural gas, according to the US Energy Department, so when the price of natural gas goes up, so do electricity costs. Wholesale natural gas prices in the region have spiked in recent winters when supplies delivered through pipelines could not keep up with demand during extended cold snaps.

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The Energy Department has raised concerns that the region’s reliance on natural gas could lead to jumps in the fuel’s price this winter.

NStar and National Grid said the electricity they have purchased from power generators for the winter season is more expensive, so residents can expect to see their costs rise by several cents compared to last year. That will translate, on average, to an extra $9 a month in charges for NStar users and nearly $14 extra for National Grid customers.

National Grid’s new rates went into effect Nov. 1 and run through April. The basic service rate for residential electric customers of National Grid will be just over 10 cents per kilowatt hour, or nearly 3 cents higher than during the same period last year, according to the utility. The average monthly bill for customers using 500 kilowatt-hours a month will rise to roughly $88.25 from $74.38.

NStar customers, meanwhile, will see their electric bills start to rise after Jan. 1, when the utility’s basic service rate increases nearly 2 cents to just over 9 cents per kilowatt hour. The average monthly bill for a customer using 500 kilowatt-hours will increase to $96.56 from $87.42.

Both National Grid and NStar support proposals from two pipeline companies that would expand pipeline capacity to bring natural gas into New England. If built, the projects are expected to help lower local natural gas prices.

In the meantime, both utilities urged electric customers to offset higher winter rates with energy-efficiency measures.

“We understand these costs are a key component of a household budget,” Marcy Reed, president of National Grid in Massachusetts, said in a statement. “We want our customers to know we are here for them and will do everything possible to provide information to help them manage energy usage and costs.”

Caroline Pretyman, a spokeswoman for Northeast Utilities, NStar’s parent company, said, “If customers are having trouble paying their bills, we encourage them to call us first. We offer low-income programs, budget billing, and of course we can talk through many energy-efficiency options that are available to help reduce overall usage and lower bills.”

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com.
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