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Western Price Survey / Archives

January 2, 2004
Nature Continues Storming into Northern California

Traders kept busy during these, the last days of 2003, moving packages of power for delivery over the New Year's holiday on Thursday and into the weekend. Prices for power in the West slipped slightly from last week's levels but weather-driven demand kept peak-power prices from dropping off too much. Forecasters expected strong winter storms to bring hazardous weather conditions to many parts of the West--in particular, in the northern part of California and the Northwest--over the holiday and into the weekend.

Utilities scrambled to restore electricity after two storms battered Northern California. On Monday, December 29, more than 279,000 PG&E customers were affected by storm-related power outages, primarily in the northeastern part of the state.

High winds, heavy rain and increased snowfall made restoration especially difficult. Outages were prolonged, Moreno said, because many local governments lack funds to pay for timely snow and fallen-tree clearance on roadways. "A lot of cities and counties have been strapped this year," he said. PG&E customers in the areas of Chico and Red Bluff were especially hard hit.

Approximately 60 utility poles, 250 spans of utility wire and 77 cross-arms were damaged during the storm. "We'll have to replace and repair all of those," Moreno said, adding that crews were being brought in from the south to assist in restoration efforts. As of noon on Wednesday, all but 7,400 of PG&E's customers were back on line.

That provided little solace to customers and the utility on Thursday, when another storm slammed into Northern California, albeit for a shorter duration than Monday's deluge. On the first day of the new year, 111,000 PG&E customers in the Bay Area lost power--but were back on line by Friday.

The same could not be said for customers in the High Sierras and other parts of PG&E's territory. As of Friday morning, 10,128 customers remained without power, with about 3,000 of those from Monday's storm.

"We've had real access issues," remarked PG&E spokesperson Jason Alderman. The utility's repair crews in the Redding area were especially challenged by the remote location of some of the needed repairs as well as blocked or unplowed roads.

Friday's outage tally included 1,400 customers in the Yosemite area and another 1,200 around Sacramento, said Alderman. The utility was preparing for another round of heavy rain and strong winds expected to arrive early next week.

At the California-Oregon Border, peak-delivery electricity changed hands for between 44.50 mills and 48 mills/KWh before dipping down to the 41.50 mills to 47 mills/KWh range in mid-week trading. Mid-Columbia power stuck to a spread of between 44 mills and 47 mills/KWh much of the week for peak deliveries. Off- peak power at the hub moved for between 40.50 and 42 mills/KWh.

In California, two and three-day packages moved for slightly more. The price for power at NP15 reached 50 mills/KWh for peak-time delivery. SP15 power trailed that by about half a mill.

Loads in the California Independent System Operator territory stayed below the 30,000 MW mark most of the week. Tuesday's peak reached 30,524 MW but by Wednesday the high-load mark managed to reach only 28,951 MW in the grid operator's region.

Power plants listed off line on the Cal-ISO Web site this week include Morro Bay Unit Nos. 3 and 4, each with 336 MW of capacity. The units, which are near the area where the earthquake struck last week in San Luis Obispo County, have been off line since that time. Mirant's 312 MW Pittsburgh No. 5 unit was off line during the first half of the week on an unscheduled outage. On Thursday afternoon, the 750 MW Four Corners Unit No. 4 made an appearance on the Cal-ISO's list of units on unscheduled outage, where it remained on Friday. The 755 MW Moss Landing Unit No. 7 continues on a planned outage, as do Reliant's Etiwanda Unit Nos. 3, 4, and 5.

The Cal-ISO figures overall show more units healthy and available in the control area as of late. In past weeks about 7,000 MW to 9,000 MW of power have been unavailable. This week the figure dropped to an average of just above 5,000 MW [Shauna O'Donnell].

Gas-Price Probes Seem Likely

The volatility of natural gas prices in the last two week has earned the attention of politicians in Washington, DC as of late. Senators Orrin Hatch (R- Utah) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut) have called for investigations into the cause of the steep price spikes.

As winter kicked in throughout the country, significant price hikes were recorded in both the futures and spot price of gas in November and early December. According to one report, prices jumped 49 percent over the first 10 days of December.

Last week, no doubt affected by the lower holiday-week demand and relatively mild weather, prices slipped below the $5.50/MMBtu mark at Western hubs. Almost all had been pushing up again the $6.00 figure the week before.

Trading in the first part of this week showed prices climbing upward once again. At Malin, natural gas traded for between $5.15 and $5.40/MMBtu on Monday and closed out the truncated trading week on Wednesday at $5.60/MMBtu. The trend continued at the San Juan hub. After opening the week at $4.88/MMBtu, gas at that hub hit a high of $5.64/MMBtu on Wednesday.

The Energy Information Administration reported withdrawals of 80 Bcf from underground storage during the week ending December 26. Still, stocks of natural gas remain greater than last year and the 2,619 Bcf in storage as of last week is 3.1 percent more than the five-year average figure [S O'D.].

Western Electricity Prices
Week of Dec. 29, 2003 - Jan. 2, 2004
Hub Peak (heavy) Off-peak (light)
Alberta Pool (C$) 10.63-77.52 10.10-21.87
Mid-Columbia 44-50.50 40.50-42
COB 44.50-48 44.50-44.50
NP 15 46-56 37-42
SP 15 46-55 36.75-41
Palo Verde 41.50-47.25 32-37.25

Archives of the Western Price Survey for the past year are also available online.

The Western Price Survey is excerpted from Energy NewsData's comprehensive regional news services. See for yourself how NewsData reporters put events in an accurate and meaningful context -- request a sample of either or both California Energy Markets and Clearing Up.

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Contact Shauna O'Donnell, editor with questions regarding Price Survey Content.

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