Nov. 17--Suit alleges Eversource, Avangrid manipulated natural gas market, cost consumers billions
By MICHAEL COUSINEAU
Union Leader Staff
November 17. 2017 4:36PM
Manipulating the natural gas market in New England caused electric ratepayers to be overcharged an estimated $3.6 billion, a class action lawsuit filed this week against Eversource Energy and Avangrid Inc. claims.
The law firm of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro filed the suit Tuesday and announced it Thursday evening. Eversource Energy has headquarters in Hartford and Boston, Avangrid is based in Orange, Conn.
The firms "unlawfully abused their substantial market power to manipulate both natural gas and electricity prices" over a period spanning at least 2013 to 2016, alleges the 61-page federal lawsuit filed this week in Boston.
The scheme had the effect of increasing electrical rates by at least 20 percent during that period for those living in New England, according to court papers.
New Hampshire residents use about 10 percent of New England's power and Eversource is the single largest provider, supplying about 513,000 Granite State homes and businesses as of June.
Company spokesman Martin Murray said Friday that Eversource is aware of the suit and reviewing the matter.
"However, the facts remain unchanged," he said. "The allegations underlying this lawsuit are untrue and baseless. The expenditure of resources to further these false claims is regrettable for all parties involved."
Avangrid, through a subsidiary, owns electricity generating facilities in multiple states, according to the lawsuit. It's New Hampshire operation includes wind farms in Groton and Lempster.
"The company is reviewing the allegations in the complaint and will vigorously defend against these claims," said Michael West Jr., Avangrid's vice president of corporate communication. "In providing service to customers, Avangrid seeks to comply with all state and federal regulatory requirements."
The lawsuit alleges Eversource and Avangrid regularly reserved more pipeline capacity than they knew they'd need, intending to cancel the reservation at the last minute when it was too late for other market participants to use the capacity to meet unfilled nature gas demand.
"Reduced natural gas supply, caused solely by the defendants' last-minute downward order adjustments, regulated in spot market natural gas prices that were 38% higher than they would otherwise have been on average," the lawsuit stated. "During the cold winter months, defendants' conduct resulted in spot market natural gas prices that were nearly 70% higher than they otherwise would have been."
New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission Consumer Advocate Donald Kreis, who works on behalf of ratepayers, said there should be an investigation into the allegations, which first came to light in a report from the Environmental Defense Fund last month. Kreis believes the findings of that report underpin the newly filed class action lawsuit.
"It is quite a leap to allege that there was an Enron-style conspiracy here to manipulate the natural gas capacity in a way that was designed to have pernicious effects in the wholesale electricity market," Kreis said.
Any "ill-gotten gains" derived from Eversource's power-generating facilities in New Hampshire would have been returned to customers, reducing some of the alleged overcharging of Eversource's Granite State customers, he explained.
The lawsuit alleging violations of both federal and state laws names 11 plaintiffs, including Bradford Keith of Lyme, who purchased power from Eversource.
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