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Western Price Survey

December 31, 2015
Colder Weather Warms Up Prices, Boosts California Snowpack Readings

While temperatures across the western U.S. plunged, energy prices rose in response to greater heating demand.

Wild weather included cold, wind and rain across Southern California -- downtown Los Angeles saw a low of 36 °F Dec. 27, tying a 1916 record. The Pacific Northwest, meanwhile, saw snow and hail.

California snowpack now has water content greater than readings a year ago. In its initial snow survey, conducted Dec. 30, the California Department of Water Resources reported snow depth of 54.7 inches in the Sierra Nevada -- 16 inches more than the average depth measured there since 1965 -- and 16.3 inches of water content, which is 136 percent of the Jan. 1 average.

The statewide snowpack was 10.2 inches of water equivalent, or 105 percent of the Dec. 30 average.

"Clearly, this is much better than it was last year at this time, but we haven't had the full effect of the El Niño yet," Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, said. "If we believe the forecasts, then El Niño is supposed to kick in as we move through the rest of the winter. That will be critical when it comes to looking at reservoir storage."

Working natural gas in storage was 3,814 Bcf as of Dec. 18, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates. This is a net decrease of 32 Bcf compared to the previous week. Storage levels are now 17.2 percent greater than a year ago and 12.1 percent greater than the five-year average. The Pacific region recorded a 15 Bcf withdrawal.

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Average values for natural gas in the West moved higher, adding between 22 cents and $1.34 in holiday-punctuated trading, Dec. 23 to Dec. 29. El Paso-Permian saw the greatest gains, jumping $1.34 to $2.97/MMBtu. Southern California Border natural gas managed to end at $3 by Dec. 29.

Western peak power prices added between $3.05 and $4.55 on average in the Dec. 23 to Dec. 30 trading period. California-Oregon Border gained the most, up $4.55 to $29.55/MWh. Prices at the end of trading ranged from $24.15/MWh at Palo Verde to $31.75/MWh at South of Path 15.

Similarly, nighttime power prices gained between $3.40 and $3.80, on average, by Wednesday. Prices ranged from $22.90/MWh at Palo Verde to $29/MWh at the California-Oregon Border.

What's ahead: More rain is expected along the West Coast starting Jan. 3, while Portland and Seattle could see cold, dry weather starting Jan. 4 [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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