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Western Price Survey

October 2, 2015
California Still Hopes for El Niño Drought Reprieve

As a new water year started Oct. 1, the California Department of Water Resources reviewed the 2015 season and noted the El Niño conditions brewing in the Pacific that might break the ongoing drought.

The 2015 water year marked the fourth year "of one of the state's most severe dry periods on record." Lower-than-average precipitation and record winter warmth contributed to a snowpack containing only 5 percent of the average water content as of April 1 in records dating to 1950.

The current forecast calls for a 95 percent chance of a strong El Niño, but the phenomenon doesn't mean a lot of rain will fall in California's critical water-collecting regions. Of the six El Niño events since 1950, only two had significant precipitation throughout the state, leading DWR to say "it is still too soon to know whether the building El Niño will be a drought-buster or simply a bust. . . . A fifth year of drought certainly is a possibility."

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As energy markets head into the shoulder season, the U.S. Energy Information Administration noted the total amount of natural gas used for power generation was flat again this week. Natural gas prices reached their lowest mark since April, according to Barclays analysts.

Working natural gas in storage reached 3,538 Bcf as of Sept. 25, according to EIA estimates, a net increase of 98 Bcf from the previous week. Storage levels are now 14.7 percent greater than a year ago and 4.5 percent greater than the five-year average.

Henry Hub gas spot values fell 20 cents in Thursday-to-Thursday trading, ending at $2.37/MMBtu on Oct. 1. Western hubs' average values dropped between 7 and 27 cents. Both Southern California Border and Stanfield natural gas fell 27 cents to $2.46/MMBtu and $2.26/MMBtu, respectively, in trading (see table).

Meanwhile, average peak power prices lost between $1.60 and as much as $4.70 in Sept. 25 to Oct. 2 trading. Average daytime prices Oct. 2 ranged from $24.20/MWh at Mid-Columbia to $33.40/MWh at North of Path 15. Nighttime power prices fared similarly, with values losing 60 cents to $3.40 on average. Prices ranged from $22.15/MWh at Palo Verde to $28.75/MWh at SP15.

Western natural gas prices were roughly $1.50 less on average in September 2015 compared to the same period last year. At Malin, for instance, the high end of the average range in September was $2.72/MMBtu; in 2014, it was $4.34/MMBtu.

Western power prices during September 2015 were also significantly lower, on average, than last year (see "Price Trends" on next page) [Linda Dailey Paulson].

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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