Environment New Hampshire
Union Leader
Gary Rayno

CONCORD —The cost of Public Service of New Hampshire's new $430 million scrubber will not be included in customers' bills Jan. 1.

Including the cost would have increased bills by about 4 percent, according to figures filed with the Public Utilities Commission.

This week, the commission decided to conduct a separate review to determine if all or a percentage of the costs of the new scrubber at Merrimack Station in Bow should be charged to customers. The review is expected to take several months and is not likely to be completed before January.

PSNH had asked to begin including the cost of the new emissions control equipment in electric rates beginning Jan. 1, telling the commission its customers have been receiving benefits since Sept. 28.

Earlier this fall, the company filed requests to update electric rates and to establish a new rate for large electric users who return to PSNH after buying their power from competitive suppliers. The rates included charges for the scrubber.

In a letter dated Nov. 15, PUC executive director Debra A. Howland wrote, “The commission has reviewed the filings and has determined that it will open a separate docket in which to consider the in-service status, PSNH's prudence, the appropriate rate treatment and the costs of the scrubber project. ... Accordingly, the commission will not consider any costs ... (in the) dockets setting default energy service rates and alternative default energy service rates for effect on Jan. 1, 2012.”

In earlier filings with the commission, PSNH suggested preliminary rates of 9.57 cents per kilowatt hour. The company first estimated a rate of 8.39 cents without the scrubber costs. Residential customers currently pay 8.89 cents a kwh for energy service.

The new rate would increase the bill of a typical residential customer using 500 kwh by $3.77 a month, and by $5.28 a month for a residential customer using 700 kwhs.

The company could not collect the cost of the new scrubber until customers receive the benefit of reduced emissions. The company said customers began receiving benefits Sept. 28.

The scrubber system is meant to remove 80 percent of the mercury and 90 percent of the sulfur emissions from flue gases at the coal-fired plant.

The group, Environment New Hampshire, will release a report Friday naming Merrimack Station as the top emitter of mercury pollution in the state.

PSNH recently announced the scrubber project is ahead of schedule and under budget.

PSNH spokesman Martin Murray said the projected final budget stands at $422 million, $35 million less than the $457 million originally planned.

“We thought it would get down to $430 million, but now that we can see the finish line, we have a better idea,” Murray said.

In 2005, the project was projected to cost $250 million, but grew to $457 million by the summer of 2008.

PUC has not yet set a date for a pre-hearing conference on the scrubber project.