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Western Price Survey

Week's End Edition
October 31, 2008
Nightmare on Wall Street Batters Energy Prices

The U.S. economy enjoyed few treats this Halloween. The country's gross domestic product dipped 0.3 percent last quarter, according to the Commerce Department. It was the biggest drop since 2001.

GDP likely won't recover soon if consumer spending is any indication. Last quarter, consumer spending tumbled for the first time in 17 years, posting a 3.1 percent decline. Thanks to rising layoffs and a credit crunch, Americans likely won't open their wallets wide anytime soon.

JPMorgan Chase economists are now predicting a global recession, with worldwide growth shrinking at a 1 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter and the first quarter of 2009. And the U.S. economy will likely shrink by 4 percent annual rate next quarter.

Economists cautioned the shrinking economy, coupled with lower energy demand, is likely to deflate commodities values. Since July, crude prices have plummeted from $147 a barrel to $67.80 a barrel on Friday. Oil usage posting its largest drop in 26 years, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The first cold front of the winter hit the Northeast this past week and plumped up heating demand and prices. Benchmark natural gas ended the week at $6.79/MMBtu, up 67 cents on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In the West, it was a different story and most hubs saw declines of about $1, with average prices varying from $2.38/MMBtu at the San Juan Basin to $5.95/MMBtu at Malin. Prices at San Juan, which went for a low of $1.80 and the Southern California Border, which traded at a low of $2.62, have not been seen in over six years.

Despite colder-than-average temperatures in the Midwest and Northeast, natural gas in storage climbed by 46 Bcf to 3.393 Tcf, the EIA said. The increase likely came because of warm weather in the rest of the country. Supplies are now only 3 percent below last year.

Only one week remains before the start of the winter heating season, and supplies are nearly 3 percent above the five-year average. High supply levels come at a good time because 33 percent of the Gulf of Mexico's natural gas production is still offline in the wake of Hurricanes Ike and Gustav, according to the Minerals Management Service.

The West saw stockpiles rise to 451 Bcf, up 7 Bcf, leaving totals almost 4 percent above the five-year average but 1 percent less than last year.

Meanwhile, cool weather is keeping power usage down in California. On Tuesday, electricity usage climbed to 33,000 MW, according to the California Independent System Operator, but then drifted down to 31,300 MW on Thursday. Electricity demands were expected to continue falling to 30,500 MW this weekend.

In California, average daytime prices slid nearly $6 to $46.95/MWh for North of Path 15 and $5 to $43.29/MWh for South of Path 15. Average nighttime trades rose $1 in the north to $43.67/MWh and $2 in the south to $35.91/MWh.

Average Palo Verde peak prices, meanwhile, were off $7 to $33.74/MWh and off-peak trades rose $1 to $28.95/MWh.

At the California-Oregon border, average peak prices dropped $1 to $53.25/MWh, while off-peak prices shot up $4 to $47.94/MWh. Mid-Columbia values were nearly identical (see chart).

On Wednesday, the Diablo Canyon Power Plant returned to full power after removing jellyfish from the one of its unit's water intake screens. The plant, located on the coast 12 miles south of San Luis Obispo, uses ocean water in its pumps. At the Palo Verde nuclear and the San Onofre Nuclear Generating System, two units were offline for scheduled maintenance and refueling for about two months. Palo Verde's 1,336 MW Unit No. 1 and San Onofre's 1,080 MW No. 3 have been shuttered for about two weeks.

What's ahead: After getting doused with rain and lower temperatures, the West Coast will see more of the same this weekend. While the first Pacific storm moves into Canada today, a second will roll in this weekend and keep temperatures in the low 60s in Seattle and high 50s in Portland, according to AccuWeather. Up to an inch of rain and snow above 7,000 feet is expected in parts of the West Coast this weekend [Kristina Shevory].

Western Electricity Prices
Week's End: October 27 - 31, 2008
Hub Peak (heavy) Off-peak (light)
Alberta Pool (C$) 34.76-447.13 19.72-68.98
Mid-Columbia 47.50-57 41-48.75
COB 49-56 42.75-49
NP 15 42-55.25 39.50-45.50
SP 15 38-53 32.25-38
Palo Verde 32.35-43.25 26.25-32.75

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


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