Despite 10 year low natural gas prices, why are ERCOT electricity rates now rising?
Wholesale power prices follow natural gas prices, especially in Texas where about half of power plants are powered by this fuel. A compilation of several factors including tight reserve margins and an increased market cap are adversely affecting electricity prices.
Rates have increased by $0.002 to $0.004 per kilowatt hour (kWh) on new retail electric contracts. For a customer with an annual usage of 1 million kWh, this equates to $2,000 to $4,000 in extra costs per year.
Additionally, the population in Texas is increasing by nearly 200,000 people each year and no new generation has been constructed nor have any plans for new generation been submitted. This means Texas’ electricity needs are spread even thinner to accommodate not only the rising population, but the extreme demand in severe winter or summer months.
A reserve margin refers to the amount of available power capacity above the capacity needed to meet normal peak demand levels. ERCOT’s target reserve margin, used to ensure stable grid operation, is set at 13.75%. The forecasted reserve margin for summer 2012 is slightly above that at 13.99%.
Last year’s reserve margins were at 17.5% and still, in February and August 2011, the grid not only failed to meet demand but also set a new winter peak demand record and three all-time summer peak demand records in 4 days. Read More: ERCOT News Release
The lack of generation has led the Public Utility Commission of Texas to come up with a potential solution: raising the market cap. A market cap is the maximum cost a generator can charge for electricity per megawatt. The cap is important during peak demand times and electricity generators rely on these peaks to make a profit.
Wholesale prices of electricity are currently around $40 per megawatt. In August of last year, when record-high temperatures plagued Texas, wholesale prices spiked to the current cap of $3,000 per megawatt or $3.00 per kWh.
The PUC is pushing to increase the cap to $4,500 this summer and potentially up to $7,500 in the next several years. Raising the cap will hopefully bring in new generation by providing a financial incentive to investors. Rather than earning $3,000 per megawatt during peak demand, they will earn a minimum of 1.5 times more than the current cap.
We will keep you updated on any further information regarding the market cap and or reserve margins.