Press-Republican

FYI...

March 9, 2014

Frigid U.S. weather means highest power prices since '08

NEW YORK — Freezing temperatures gripping the eastern U.S. will result in the highest electricity prices in six years for consumers in Boston, Dallas and San Francisco.

Supplies of natural gas and coal will decline to six-year lows by the end of this month, government data show. The fuels are used to generate 67 percent of the country's electricity. Wholesale power for use from April through June in New England traded at an average of $62.15 a megawatt-hour Tuesday, 26 percent more than a year earlier and the highest for the period since 2008, according to IntercontinentalExchange and broker data compiled by Bloomberg.

The coldest start to a year since 2011 means consumers won't see the normal seasonal drop in power prices. Natural gas is up 32 percent compared with a year ago, adding to costs for home heating and power generation. Maintenance planned for a third of U.S. nuclear reactors in the next three months, the most for the season in at least 14 years, will further boost reliance on fossil fuels.

"The power markets that got hammered in the first quarter, given the low supply environment, aren't going to see much relief in the second quarter," said Eric Bickel, a natural gas analyst at Schneider Electric in Louisville, Ky.

Power at Northern California's NP15 hub and at hubs serving Dallas and Central Texas were also at the highest since 2008, while April to June prices for PJM Interconnection LLC, the 13- state grid stretching from Washington to Chicago, are the highest since 2011.

Wholesale electricity futures covering consumption this spring are already trading at six-year highs in Boston and San Francisco.

"Consumers should anticipate higher energy bills," said Teri Viswanath, the director of commodities strategy at BNP Paribas SA in New York.

California wholesale prices also jumped as a record drought reduced production from hydroelectric plants, which account for 15 percent of the state's power supply.

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