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Western Price Survey

Week's End Edition
May 1, 2009
Natural Gas Stays Mostly Below $3; Power Can't Push Past $30

Electricity prices made small gains this week as natural gas prices rose and rain showers approached the West Coast. Daytime trades picked up $2/MWh or less by Friday, while nighttime prices closed out $6 to $9 higher.

Electricity prices, however, were tame overall, with peak power unable to push past $30/MWh in the West and nighttime power trading mostly in the teens.

Western spot natural gas prices tended to peak Wednesday and finished the week 11 to 26 cents/MMBtu higher. On Friday, prices ranged from an average low of $2.66/MMBtu at San Juan to $3.25/MMBtu at Pacific Gas & Electric's CityGate.

Showers are back in the forecast for rain-parched California this weekend, but it won't be enough to quench the state's drought. Nearly the entire state has moderate to severe drought conditions, according to the Department of Agriculture's U.S. Drought Monitor.

Hot weather last month made the state drier, and melted a good portion of the snowpack in the Sierras. Snowpack, which accounts for one-third of California's water supply, is at 68 percent of average as of April 28, down from 80 percent on April 1, the California Department of Water Resources reported. Low snowmelt will likely lead to water rationing this summer, and drier conditions that could boost the chance of wildfires.

This month Mid-Columbia power prices have benefitted from cheap hydro and an excess of wind generation. Off-peak prices went as low as $1/MWh last week. This week, however, they started out at a low of $8/MWh and were trading at an average of $20/MWh by Friday. Peak prices, meanwhile, inched up slightly over $2 to an average of $25.35/MWh.

For the week, California-Oregon border peak prices added $2 to settle at an average of $26.93/MWh. Off-peak values posted a $9 increase to average $21.61.

Power demand was relatively stable in California this week, rising from 28,200 MW on Monday to 28,500 MW on Thursday, the California Independent System Operator said. From Friday through Sunday, usage is projected to slip from 28,100 MW to 26,300 MW.

Average California prime power notched a $1 rise to $27.34/MWh at North of Path 15. Off-prime values shot up $7 to $21.49. Electricity prices were nearly identical at South of Path 15 and Palo Verde.

The economic downturn, increased shipments of liquefied natural gas, and plentiful storage has kept natural gas prices low. Moderate spring weather also kept air-conditioning and space-heating demand low. Last week, 82 Bcf of natural gas went into storage -- more than at any other time this year, the Energy Information Administration reported. At 1.823 Tcf, stockpiles are 34.1 percent above the same period last year and 22.5 percent above the five-year average.

Western supplies rose by 14 Bcf to 308 Bcf, leaving inventory levels 64.7 percent above last year and 40.6 percent greater than the five-year average.

On Tuesday, the May contract for natural gas closed at $3.32/MMBtu, the lowest close for a front-month contract in over six years, the EIA said. June natural gas closed at $3.54 on Friday.

Washington state's Columbia Generating Station has been operating at 90 percent capacity for most of the week as the reactor gradually powers down for repairs on May 9. One-third of the reactor core's fuel assembly will be replaced at the 1,150 MW unit. The Palo Verde nuclear power plant's third unit, which can produce up to 1,336 MW, is off line until late May for scheduled maintenance. The Arizona unit has been turned off since early April [Kristina Shevory].

Western Electricity Prices
Week's End: April 27 - May 1, 2009
Hub Peak (heavy) Off-peak (light)
Alberta Pool (C$) 16.05-43.09 12-32.18
Mid-Columbia 21-26 8-21.25
COB 23.25-27.25 12-21.75
NP 15* 26.25-29 14.25-22.50
SP 15* 24.50-28.25 12.50-21.50
Palo Verde 24.25-30 12-21.75

* 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.

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 Chris Raphael, editor with questions regarding Price Survey Content.

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