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Western Price Survey / Archives

March 2, 2001
Prices Spread Wide as Stage Two Briefly Returns to California

Power prices ran up about 100 mills/KWh Wednesday as the California Independent System Operator moved back into a Stage Two Emergency that spilled into Thursday morning. The cause of the crunch had nothing to do with the 6.8 magnitude earthquake in western Washington, but rather was tied to loss of two Centralia generating units a bit south of the epicenter and a few hours prior to the quake.

The units were taken off line following a construction crane accident, said owner TransAlta. That pulled another 1,340 MW of energy out of the system already stressed by dozens of unit outages.

Cal-ISO's daily list of planned and unplanned outages grew to 75 units this week, with a Moss Landing unit, two El Segundo units and two Big Creek hydro units new to the list-though Moss Landing No. 6 had only recently been reported returned to action before evidently tripping offline again Tuesday.

The continuing outages with the most impact, though, are at nuclear units at San Onofre and Palo Verde. SONGS is on an extended repair hiatus following the fire early in February but Palo Verde No. 3 moved into hot standby midweek and was climbing toward full power Friday.

The price trend had been dropping from Monday but did a quick about- face on Wednesday, traders said. Mid-Columbia and California/Oregon Border prices popped to 320 mills; NP 15 jumped to 285 mills and SP 15 followed close behind at 265 mills to 275 mills/KWh. All these points had slipped to the 180 mills to 195 mills/KWh range on Tuesday. Even Palo Verde, far from the action, rose by 100 mills to 275 mills/KWh midweek. Off-peak price picked up 40 mills to 140 mills/KWh. The Path 15 points were in the 140 mills to 190 mills range, and COB and Mid-C were quite high at 200 mills to 250 mills/KWh during the height of the craziness.

Though prices appeared to be easing slightly into the weekend, a jump in natural gas prices prevented much erosion.

While the Washington earthquake shook buildings from Portland, Oregon, to Vancouver, BC, it had relatively little impact on utility systems. Puget Sound Energy reported up to 200,000 customers without power briefly, with all but a handful returned to service that day. No grid blips or serious voltage fluctuations were reported by control operators, and the Northwest hydro system appeared intact.

Recent rains have helped California snow pack and reservoir levels, but not the Pacific Northwest. Northern California precipitation moved to about 85 percent of normal for the date, and many smaller reservoirs are actually close to their historic average levels- although lower than last year. However, big bowls at Shasta, Oroville and Hetch Hetchy, which feed significant hydroelectric operations are less healthy. Oroville and Hetch Hetchy are only about 50 percent of storage capacity, while Shasta is at 76 percent and all are well below last year's levels.

Things are even tighter in the Northwest, where rainfall has been only 59 percent of normal, stream flows are less than half of historical averages and storage is down to just 37 percent of capacity [Arthur O'Donnell].

Border Prices Rock on El Paso Work and SoCal Storage Takeouts

Even though the El Paso Natural Gas pipeline delayed scheduled maintenance on its main lines into California for a day, gas buyers reacted by sending SoCal Border prices up to $29/MMBtu at the Ehrenberg delivery point, pulling Topock and Malin prices up as well.

Part of the reason, traders said, was that a burst of cold weather in Los Angeles and the midweek electrical emergency caused an over-pull situation on El Paso and a run on storage gas. Also, El Paso was planning a three-day maintenance curtailment that will cut flows on the south mainline by 450 MMcfd beginning Saturday. Initially, El Paso said the work would start Friday. By Tuesday, flows may be back to 920 MMcfd, the company said.

When anxieties calmed a bit, Topock was back down to $23/MMBtu, still $10 higher than the day before. Basin prices did not spike in the same manner, but showed a great deal of fluctuation in the $4.90 to $5.40/MMBtu range.

The call for gas in Southern California meant Canadian supplies were more in demand, and Malin prices jumped from $6.90 early in the week to over $10/MMBtu Thursday. CityGate prices similarly jumped from $8.25 to $11/MMBtu.

Alberta supplies followed their own trends, dropping from $(C) 7.50/Gigajoule on Monday to $7.15/Gj Thursday [A. O'D.].

Western Electricity Prices
Week of February 26-March 2, 2001
Hub Peak (heavy) Off-peak (light)
Alberta Pool (C$) 63-97.8 9.5-84.5
Mid-Columbia 190-325 175-250
COB 195-325 200-250
NP 15 195-290 160-190
SP 15 175-265 132-182
Palo Verde 175-275 100-140

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

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