"For much of the state of Maine, the environment is the economy"
2015 January 25
Now deep into winter, with many cold days behind us, New England’s electric market is faring much better than expected. Despite months of talk about a “crisis” of energy shortages and ever-higher prices, wholesale prices for electricity and natural gas are running well below last year, and power plants are getting the fuel they need to run, even in very cold weather. Households and businesses should see lower bills by summer at the latest. This reality should calm alarmed policymakers and encourage them to think more deliberately about our energy future.
So far, what happened last winter isn’t happening this winter. In December, New England wholesale electricity and natural gas prices were down 55 percent and 64 percent from last year, respectively. In January, we’ve seen some price increases on cold days, but much less than last year. In the bitterly cold weather earlier this month, we had enough natural gas to heat our buildings and serve power plants, without any more pipeline capacity than we had last winter. The market also appears to be taking the 2014 retirements of several large old power plants in stride.
…Last week, two Maine utilities that avoided setting rates last fall set their 2015 prices, and their supply costs dropped to 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour — less than half what many New Englanders are paying this winter.…
With the winter energy crisis narrative fizzling before our eyes, New England has an opportunity to pursue more incremental, market-oriented measures to meet our energy needs at a reasonable cost, reduce our fossil fuel consumption and carbon pollution, and make better use of the infrastructure we have. In a market that can turn on a dime, these are smart moves, and they are already paying off this winter. [Colored & bold emphasis added.]
Webmaster's comment: Existing LNG infrastructure defeats Downeast LNG's import and export asperations, as it has even from Downeast LNG's 2004 beginnings.
According to a survey that was reported in a recent newsletter of Georgia Sierra Club, more than 80 percent of Georgians are convinced that climate change is real, caused by humans and in urgent need of political action, yet state officials continue to ignore or deflect the issue.
- Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is now proposed for distribution worldwide from a precarious coastal site at Elba Island east of Savannah, adjacent to a major shipping channel. In addition to the obvious public-safety risks, a problem ignored by our officials (state and federal) is that much of this gas now comes from fracking operations that release heat-trapping methane at dangerous levels. Per ton, methane is 30 times worse than CO2 in global warming effects.
According to authoritative sources, the latest research concludes that so much methane escapes when fracking is done that it completely negates the carbon-reducing advantages of burning gas instead of coal or oil. Therefore, facilities like those proposed at Elba Island will add to climate-overheating problems, not reduce them.
To be honest but cynical, federal policy could be used to rationalize this bad decision-making, since EPA now controls only new sources of methane pollution, not existing ones, which are the greatest part of problem. Again, unwise political concessions have led to weak policies.
There was a change of tone this week in Premier Christy Clark’s pronouncements on the liquefied natural gas front.
Her remarks to reporters in Victoria constituted an acknowledgment that the master plan her government has been pursuing for the past several years might have to change. [Colored & bold emphasis added.]
Clark said falling oil prices and a tough economy have altered the government’s LNG playbook, making it more difficult to predict which plants will go ahead or how. “We are still on track to meet our goal of [getting] three LNG plants up and running by 2020,” she said. “But it probably won’t happen in the order that we had originally anticipated it would happen, and that’s about being adaptable to change.”
Woodfibre’s 2013 purchase agreement with Western Forest Products for the 212 acres of waterfront land was dependent on remediation of the site and the granting of a certificate of compliance from B.C.’s environment ministry. That certificate was granted in November, according to Nathan Gloag, Woodfibre LNG’s project manager.
Environmental groups, including My Sea to Sky, have vigorously opposed the planned LNG processing and export facility set for about five kilometres southwest of downtown Squamish.
According to Rich Wildman, an environmental chemist from Quest University who is also on the district’s Woodfibre LNG Community Committee, the better questions are not being asked about the impact of the facility on marine life.
Wildman said global research has been conducted to make sure intakes and outtakes of water are relatively safe, but not enough research has been done on the acoustic impact of facilities such as Woodfibre’s proposed plant. [Colored & bold emphasis added.]
Oil prices are at five-year lows, and natural gas prices aren’t doing much better. And unless the winter gets very cold very quickly, that’s not about to change dramatically.
Natural gas prices at AECO averaged $3.18 per thousand cubic feet for 2013 and $4.47 last year. This month, the price has hovered around $2.82 per mcf.
According to FirstEnergy, U.S. domestic supply growth has been running between five and six billion cubic feet per day higher than it was a year ago, and there are no signs of a slowdown.
By the end of the winter, said Robert Ineson of IHS — who spoke at a Conference Board of Canada summit this week — natural gas storage in the U.S. will exceed the five-year average.
The story is no different in Canada, with 2014 the best year for growth in natural gas supply since 2001.
With prices so low, it’s no wonder the industry is looking hungrily to LNG [exporting] as an avenue that could eventually provide some uplift to natural gas prices. But that’s anything but a slam dunk.
According to FirstEnergy’s analysis, if the landed LNG price is $9 per mmBtu, and the cost of gas is $3, the netbacks at a 3.5 per cent royalty — post capital cost payout — is $1.21 per mmBtu. In other words, projects that were counting on a big netback are looking at an entirely different reality today.
Without robust LNG export capabilities, the North American market will remain a victim of its own success in terms of increasing natural gas productivity that saw 330 rigs boost production to record levels in the U.S. last year. [Colored & bold emphasis added.]
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