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Western Price Survey / Archives

May 2, 2003
Hydro Holds Out for Dramatic Entrance

Though strong production at Northwestern dams this week took the edge off spot electric prices, indications suggest that more high-powered flows-and lower prices-are yet in store. Load throughout the region is still limping, and many power plants remain in maintenance hibernation. Fuel prices for generators held steady this week, helping to ease electric premiums.

Grand Coulee Dam generated an average of 2,486 MW on May 1, bettering its April average of 2,414 MW. Chief Joseph put out 1,372 MW, also topping its April average of 1,298 MW.

On the lower Columbia, dams were slightly less active. The Dalles averaged 798 MW on Thursday, a decline of about 70 MW from its average production for April. At John Day, output was clocked at 1,358 MW, eclipsing its April average of 1,239 MW.

Even with the solid dam output figures, traders said that hydro production and regional spot prices are still being held in check. "Prices in the Northwest are where they should be, considering," said one market player. "They'd come off if we see increased water flows."

The California Independent System Operator is also looking forward to a rise in hydro supplies. According to Cal-ISO spokesperson Gregg Fishman, the grid operator is hoping for a boost in hydropower from the Northwest in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, generators continued their spring cleaning. Cal-ISO reported a swollen 4,838 MW of offline capacity midweek resulting from unplanned power plant outages. Shelved units included Mirant's 682 MW Pittsburg No. 7 plant and the 485 MW Alamitos 6 plant, owned by AES. The Pittsburg 7 unit returned to service later in the week.

PG&E Generating's La Paloma plants continued to bump off and on line. The 260 MW unit 3 sat off line all week, and the 231 MW unit 1 and 260 MW No. 4 experienced brief outages. On Wednesday morning, Four Corners No. 4-majority-owned by Southern California Edison and operated by Arizona Public Service-shut down for unscheduled maintenance, taking 750 MW off the grid. The coal-fired plant returned to full capacity on Friday.

The 1,270 MW Palo Verde No. 3 rumbled to life late in the week after a month-long refueling outage. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the plant was running at 25 percent of full power on Friday morning.

The California grid continues to exhibit dual daily peaks, where demand hits a high point not only in the evening but in the late morning, early afternoon period as well. Fishman said that cooler weather has been keeping loads high in the morning, after which demand drops off at about 5 pm before ramping back up at around 7 o'clock.

"It's the classic spring load curve," he said, adding that the onset of warmer weather will smooth the early peak into a steady incline as air-conditioning load takes hold throughout the day.

Peak prices around the West through Wednesday ducked down to the upper 30 mills to low 40 mills/kWh range. Heavy-load prices at Mid-Columbia stooped to the upper 20 mills zone on Thursday, with off-peak premiums sticking at about 28 mills/kWh. NP 15 and SP 15 showed peak prices in the upper 30 mills range late in the week, and light-load prices at both hubs slumped to about 28 mills/kWh.

In the Southwest, Palo Verde prices mostly hung in the mid 30 mills range, with light-load transactions pegged at about 26 mills to 27 mills/kWh.

Real-time prices at the Alberta hub rode between 22.65 mills and 196.18 mills/kWh for heavy-load hours. Those peaks tended to arrive at midday as loads reached above 7,300 MW [Jason Mihos].

Gas Wary of Storage Data, New Supply

Daily gas prices took another cautious tour of the market this week, similar to their performance the previous week. Movement was minimal as a handful of factors-mild weather, concerns about production, questions about the adequacy of recent storage injections-kept premiums in limbo.

Storage figures from the federal Energy Information Administration show that gas inventory grew by 57 Bcf compared to the previous week. In the West, supplies inched 6 Bcf higher. Nationwide gas stocks are still 865 Bcf lower than they were during the same period last year and are 563 Bcf lower than the five-year average of 1,304 Bcf.

Gas at the Southern California border neared the $5/MMBtu mark but stayed just beneath it, reaching to $4.97/MMBtu. Farther north at CityGate, prices moved as high as $5.31 and as low as $4.87/MMBtu. Up at Malin, supplies traded between $4.50 and $4.90/MMBtu.

At the basins, prices observed recent patterns. Permian gas ran in the $4.80 to $4.90 range and topped out at $5.01/MMBtu, while San Juan roamed from $3.20 up to $4.50/MMBtu. The Alberta hub in Canada saw prices between $4.51 and $4.70/MMBtu [J. M.].

Western Electricity Prices
Week of April 28-May 2, 2003
Hub Peak (heavy) Off-peak (light)
Alberta Pool (C$) 10.13-196.18 10.13-62.21
Mid-Columbia 26.75-35.5 26-33
COB 31.5-41.5 28.5-31.5
NP 15 35.75-46 28-33.5
SP 15 34.5-46.5 28-34
Palo Verde 31-43.75 25.25-31

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

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