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GTAT finishes the year with a big loss

GT Advanced Technologies finished the year with an awful fourth quarter, losing $159 million, or $1.34 a share, and ending fiscal year with a loss of $63 million, or 53 cents a share, the company announced Wednesday after the markets…

SBIR proposal workshop planned at UNH

A one-day Small Business Innovation Research National Science Foundation Proposal Workshop for early-stage science and technology companies that want more information about the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs will be presented March…

Ex-Cabletron execs settle SEC civil charges

Two top executives of the former Cabletron Systems have settled civil charges of securities fraud with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission without having to pay any penalty, while the SEC pursues monetary civil damages against a low-level executive who…

USNH names Leach interim chancellor

The University System of New Hampshire has picked Todd Leach, president of Granite State College, to serve as interim chancellor of USNH. He assumes the position effective March 2, the date current Chancellor Ed MacKay will retire. USNH said Leach…

Spike in natural gas prices jolts competitive electricity market

The recent spike in natural gas prices has caught energy suppliers off guard -- particularly those that are independent and buy supplies on the spot market -- and was a contributing, if not the primary, factor that forced Resident Power to shed its 8,700 New Hampshire customers, according to sources in the industry. The Manchester-based electricity provider was in the process of transferring those customers to FairPoint Energy when ISO New England suspended Resident Power's related supplier, Power New England. In the interim, the accounts were transferred to Public Service of New Hampshire. But it turns out Power New England -- which still serves larger commercial customers -- has already voluntarily been transferring most of its customers back to PSNH to ride out the spike in gas prices. Ironically, the low price of gas over the past few years has helped alternative energy suppliers compete aggressively with PSNH. The state's largest utility has not been able to take full advantage of lower gas prices because it still supplies some of its own energy generated with more costly methods, particularly an aging coal plant in Bow. Nearly all of its large customers fled PSNH several years ago, and as of December, some 30,000 residential customers also chose to get their energy elsewhere. Indeed, New Hampshire consumers now get more than half of their power from electricity generated by natural gas. Natural gas might still be cheap and plentiful -- thanks to a new but controversial technology known as fracking -- but the supply to New England is limited by pipeline capacity, creating what a recent New York Times article described as a "natural gas trap." "The pipeline hasn't expanded capacity for 15 years, and with gas utilities like EnergyNorth and National Grid converting people hand over fist, that demand eventually adds up," said August "Gus" Fromuth, managing director of Resident Power and PNE. Last winter was so mild that no one noticed, but the demand shot up during a cold spell in January. This hasn't affected utilities with long-term contracts, however. "We measure gas prices by the year, not the month," said Alec O'Meara, spokesperson for Unitil. Actually six months is more accurate, since that is the standard contract, O'Meara said. If winter prices hold, those costs will be included in the next rate filing, but that won't affect the utility, just customers. But electric generators that depend on the spot market "get what's left over after the local distribution companies," Fromuth said. These generators "don't want to commit to a fixed supply of gas. They make electricity when ISO (ISO New England, which regulates the electric grid for the region) tells them to, when it is needed. "That's why natural gas-generated electricity now sells at a price from three to eight times higher than the amount it did during the warm winter just a year ago. "Business wasn't financially prepared for this," said Emile Clavet, part-owner of ENH Power, a Maine-based company with offices in Portsmouth with some 45,000 residential and small business customers in the Granite State. "I can't speak for PNE, but ENH runs a fully hedged book of business. When a customer signs up for a year, I buy that year's power right away. I have it in the bank. That eliminates the financial risk."

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