Making Sense of the Present Electricity Market

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  • Regional issues are ruling the day, when it comes to understanding today’s electricity market– gas & power correlations remain critical, but we continue to see increased frequency of separation.  There are fundamental factors that are behind this trend:
    • Northeast basis – too much info on this to put in this blog posting, but the short-story is that the region is short gas pipeline capacity and this year’s cold temps and pipeline constraints have caused huge gas spikes to New England (several days in $20-30 range) and to a less extent New York Zone 6 (>$20).  Day-ahead power has moved with gas with some spikes near $200/MWh. This is impacting long-term prices.  Unfortunately, the pipeline constraints are unlikely to be resolved in the near-term.
    • ERCOT Resource Adequacy – this issue is also not going away as ERCOT is expected to remain below is target for reserve margins and the increased offer caps are not expected to resolve the problem.  So do not expect summer premiums to disappear and there will be ongoing discussion on solutions to the problem.  Regulatory news and summer price spikes will both impact forwards.
    • PJM Capacity –the wholesale energy prices in the market remain low, but capacity prices vary greatly within the ISO – rising for most of the West and falling for the East over the next 2 years with certain areaa having exceptional spikes (ATSI).  Note that we have updated capacity charts that clearly illustrate this trend.
    • California Cap & Trade & SONGS outage- ongoing strength in forwards as Cap & Trade has been implemented and there is still tremendous uncertainty regarding SONGS, which has been shut down for almost one year.
  • Customer message:  The overall message is straightforward, but may be difficult for customers to accept since many have had consistent year-over-year price declines since the peak of 2008.
    • Year-over-year declines in gas have stopped with 2012 likely being the bottom.
    • Rangebound gas behavior for the near-term with modestly higher prices possible for 2014.
      • It makes sense that natural gas futures are higher than a year ago, but below long-term averages.  And we expect this to continue.  So don’t count on another spring dip – it is very unlikely to see a repeat of April 2012.
    • Both upside and downside are limited by coal-to-gas, production economics, storage, etc.
    • Regional fundamentals are causing significant regional risks that must be considered.  If you only focus on natural gas, you are exposed to significant regional risks such as New England winter spikes and ERCOT summer spikes.
  • Regional issues may provide a better rationale for customers to contract their electricity now.