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Western Price Survey

Week's End Edition
March 16, 2012
BPA Breaks Wind Records

The jury's still out on what the spring runoff in the West will look like.

The forecast from the Northwest River Forecast Center for the 2012 water year, which runs from January through July, is at 96 percent of normal. And it "has been going up for the past month," said Michael Hansen with the Bonneville Power Administration.

California, however, is still coping with very low snowpack. Cal-ISO already has derated hydro generation by 1,137 MW this summer, even with recent rain and snowstorms. California's last snow survey is taken in May, however, so there's a chance the situation could improve.

BPA's recent increase in hydro generation -- the balancing authority neared 13,000 MW this week -- has more to do with "drafting" the hydro system, releasing water from reservoirs downstream. Hansen said the drafting is being done in preparation for spring runoff and flood-control requirements.

"The recent snow has required us to draft a little more than usual in preparation for the runoff," he said.

Wind generation has also provided plenty of electricity, says Hansen. The BPA system reached a record 4,039 MW of wind production on Sunday, March 11.

Meanwhile, an abundance of natural gas in storage is pushing gas prices close to below the key $2 mark. Working gas in storage reached 2,369 Bcf as of Friday, March 9, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates, a net decrease of 64 Bcf from the previous week. Current storage levels are now 45 percent higher than a year ago and 51.7 percent above the five-year average.

For the March 9 to March 16 trading period, the Henry Hub spot average price lost 19 cents, to $2.01/MMBtu. In the West, Malin spot natural gas remained even, ending at $2.10. Southern California Border gas prices lost 8 cents to $2.13.

Western electricity prices were mixed over the trading period. Palo Verde gained the most value, up $1.60 to an average of $24.03/MWh Friday. North of Path 15 was the only hub to lose value, down 75 cents to an average of $23.50/MWh. Prices at the close of the trading week ranged from averages of $19.25/MWh (Mid-Columbia) to about $24.45 (South of Path 15).

Nighttime power in the West closed in the range of roughly $16.05 to $19.70/MWh.

Peak use on the Cal-ISO grid reached the week's high of 29,429 MW Tuesday evening. The grid operator forecasts that peak demand should not exceed 28,955 MW through March 19. Northwest Power Pool peak demand reached 53,957 MW Tuesday.

What's ahead: After nearly a week of rain in some parts, California returns to sunny conditions. The Bay Area may have a slim possibility of rain Monday; Tuesday through Thursday should be clear. Los Angeles temperatures should be in the 60s Monday through Thursday.

In the Pacific Northwest, wet weather continues. Some flooding is possible in Seattle Tuesday or Wednesday, with another storm system expected Thursday. After mixed rain and snow Monday, Portland expects more wet weather and temperatures around the 50s into Thursday [Linda Dailey Paulson].

Western Electricity Prices
Week's End: March 12 - 16, 2012
Hub Peak (heavy) Off-peak (light)
Alberta Pool (C$) 11.48-204.62 11.06-24.22
Mid-Columbia 16.55-20.75 14-18
COB 20-22.50 17.05-22.50
NP 15* 23.25-23.50 19-19.10
SP 15* 22.70-24.80 17-19.50
Palo Verde 21-24.20 16.25-19.30

* Prices represent both day-ahead locational marginal prices (financial swaps, or EZ Gen DA LMPs) and quasi-swap prices (EZ Gen) as reported by ICE.

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

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