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Western Price Survey

January 10, 2014
Dry Year on Tap for Western U.S.

The West is bracing for another dry year as the first water and snow surveys of 2014 show very low precipitation in California and the Pacific Northwest.

The Jan. 3 California snow survey shows the statewide snowpack water content at about 20 percent of average for this time of year, according to the state Department of Water Resources.

Two years ago, in 2012, was the last time California's statewide snowpack stood at 20 percent of the historical average. The latest reading and the 2012 reading are the driest on record.

Snowpack has dwindled in recent days. As of Jan. 10, the statewide average snow-water equivalent is two inches, which is 16 percent of normal.

Precipitation and snowpack in the Pacific Northwest are not much better. The region is "substantially drier," according to the year's initial water-supply briefing by the Northwest River Forecast Center.

Observed precipitation at the Columbia River above The Dalles is 4.9 inches for the water year to date, or about 50 percent of the norm. The 2014 water year started strong, with above-normal rainfall in the region in September 2013, said Kevin Berghoff, a senior hydrologist with the forecast center. Precipitation dropped off in October and November, although some areas of the Upper Columbia River watershed do have snowpack near or above normal.

The dry conditions (along with cold weather) have helped regional electricity prices, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. New England and the Pacific Northwest had the greatest average price increases for electricity in 2013, according to the agency. The average spot price for power at Mid-Columbia, for example, jumped 64 percent between 2012 and 2013 to $37.53/MWh.

As for natural gas, working gas in storage reached 2,817 Bcf as of Friday, Jan. 3, according to EIA estimates, a net decrease of 157 Bcf from the previous week. Henry Hub natural gas moved lower, losing 19 cents since last Thursday to trade Jan. 9 at $4.14/MMBtu. Western hubs also ended lower, led by Stanfield, which fell 27 cents to $4.12 (see table).

Western peak-power prices followed suit, with Northwest hubs losing between $13 and $16.70/MWh in the Jan. 3 to Jan. 10 trading period (see chart). By Jan. 10, average prices ranged from $34.45/MWh at Mid-C to $46.70 at Palo Verde.

What's ahead: The National Weather Service said above-normal temperatures are likely from Washington into Southern California and Arizona Jan. 15-23. The region could also see below-normal precipitation, although Washington can expect seasonally normal precipitation Jan. 17-23 [Linda Dailey Paulson].

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


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Contact Chris Raphael, editor with questions regarding Price Survey Content.

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