By William Opalka
Northeast Utilities, the holding company that operates six electric and gas distribution companies in three New England states, has announced a top-to-bottom rebranding by changing its name to Eversource Energy.
The corporate parent, with headquarters in Boston and Hartford, Conn., will use the name for itself and each of its units: NSTAR Electric, NSTAR Gas and Western Massachusetts Electric Co. in Massachusetts; Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH); and Connecticut Light and Power and Yankee Gas Services in Connecticut.
The new name becomes effective on Feb. 2 and the company has requested its ticker on the New York Stock Exchange be changed to ES on Feb. 19.
“Energy is what brings us all together, and Eversource reflects the one-company focus we have been driving for the last few years,” Northeast Utilities CEO Tom May said in a statement. “Consolidating our brand was the obvious next step for us as we continually strive to improve energy delivery and customer service to our 3.6 million electricity and natural gas customers across the region.”
The Northeast Utilities name dates back to 1965, when CL&P, Hartford Electric Light and WMECo merged. NU acquired PSNH in 1992. According to the PSNH website, that company became the first investor-owned utility to go bankrupt since the Great Depression. PSNH spent the 1980s fending off financial crises precipitated by cost overruns, delays and opposition related to the Seabrook nuclear plant.
The biggest step in the makeover occurred in 2012 with the merger of Hartford-based NU with NSTAR, of Boston. The proposed pairing was announced in late 2010. During regulatory review, the new company pledged to maintain dual headquarters in its host cities. NU, with about 2.4 million customers, was twice the size of NSTAR with its 1.2 million customers.
Included in the merger was a negotiated settlement in Massachusetts for NSTAR to purchase electricity from the proposed Cape Wind project. NSTAR had committed to buy 27.5% of the 468-MW project’s output under a 15-year power purchase agreement. That project is now imperiled as NU and National Grid, another New England utility with a PPA with Cape Wind, have terminated the agreements due to the wind farm’s failure to meet contract benchmarks. (See related story, Terminated PPA Imperils First Offshore Wind Project.)
At the time of the merger announcement, the two companies were planning a joint venture to import Canadian hydropower into New England. The $1.4 billion Northern Pass transmission line in northern New Hampshire is now a wholly owned subsidiary of NU Transmission Ventures. The 186-mile line would bring 1,200 MW of electricity produced by Hydro-Quebec in Canada into the New England power market.
Although the project would use 147 miles of existing rights-of-way, it is mired in controversy because of the need to cross the White Mountain National Forest and its visual impact on other federal and state nature preserves.
Northern Pass requires a Presidential Permit from the Department of Energy because it crosses an international border.
The merger was almost derailed by criticism over CL&P’s response to Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy in 2011. The Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority penalized the company by reducing its allowed return on equity by 0.15% for a year.
The financial markets seem to have shrugged off the controversies. NU stock ended 2014 at $53.52, up about 26% for the year above its 2013 close of $42.39.