3 min read

Cold Turkeys Boost Gas Prices

By 5 on November 29, 2022

What a difference three months make in the constantly changing landscape of the natural gas market in the US. Last September, the December delivery contract for NYMEX’s Henry Hub, was trading at approximately $9.50/MMBtu, while natural gas prices in Europe were trading near $90/MMBtu. On November 28, the December contract settled for the last time at a final price of $6.65/MMBtu, a drop of almost $3.00 from the August high, while major European trading hubs are now near $30/MMBtu.

There were several factors that moved future prices for this winter’s gas delivery down from its late-summer highs. However, many of those bearish influences have started to change and reverse direction.

First, inventory levels of US natural gas in storage grew through the months of September through November at a pace that was significantly higher than expected. In late August, the market consensus was that the US would have about 3,400 Bcf of natural gas placed into underground storage facilities. That belief was dramatically changed when more than 100 Bcf of gas went into storage for six of the next seven weeks. The 1,004 Bcf of injections between weeks ending September 2 and November 11 was almost twice as much as in 2020, and the largest of the last decade.

Those injections came to a dramatic reversal on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving when the EIA reported the first withdrawal of the season of 80 Bcf, with an even stronger withdrawal expected for Thursday, December 1. Figure 1 shows that the gap between gas in storage and the five-year average was reduced from 10.5% in late August to 0.4% on November 11. Last week’s 80 Bcf withdrawal was enough to open that gap to 3.3%.

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Topics: Markets Natural Gas
10 min read

November 2022 - Energy Market Letter

By Jon Moore on November 2, 2022

On behalf of the team at 5, I am pleased to forward our November market letter. This letter discusses: (i) the upcoming Mid-Term Elections, and how the results could impact energy policy; and (ii) the challenges facing grid system operators in Texas, New England and New York as they work to integrate large volumes of intermittent resources into the grid mix.

The Mid-Term Elections

Recent polls favor Republicans to take control of the House and perhaps the Senate as well. As a result, several clients have asked what such a change in Washington could mean for energy policy. The question is particularly interesting because the landmark Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which allocated some $369 billion to the energy sector, was passed by the Senate and the House without a single Republican vote.

The Inflation Reduction Act: The short answer is that the election results will probably have little effect on energy policy. While a change in control of the House or the shift of a single Senate seat would have doomed passage of this legislation, since it was passed and signed into law by President Biden, it will be difficult to repeal it. Even if the House and Senate pass legislation to repeal or amend portions of the IRA, President Biden has veto power, and overriding a veto requires a vote of two-thirds of the members in the House and Senate. This is good news for developers of renewable power, energy storage, electrical vehicle manufacturers and others that will benefit from the incentives found in the IRA. But this does not mean that the IRA and its various energy incentives are immune from challenges in the courts.

There are some interesting parallels between the IRA and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Like the IRA, the Democrats used budget reconciliation to get the ACA approved by the Senate, and all Republicans in the House and Senate opposed the ACA. President Obama signed the ACA in March 2010, and in the November 2010 mid-term elections, the Democrats lost control of the House, in part, because of opposition to the ACA. The new congress did not reverse or upend the ACA, in part because politicians have little appetite for taking benefits away from voters. Yet the law became the subject of extensive legal challenges, one of which ended up in the Supreme Court.

While there is considerable opposition to the IRA, and it will undoubtedly face legal challenges, even though the law does not appear to be subject to the same serious constitutional challenges (for example, the constitutionality of the insurance mandate) that faced the ACA. In addition, as in the case of the ACA, we expect that in the two years remaining in the Biden Administration, a significant amount of the benefits will be granted to various energy projects. Once grants are made, it will be difficult if not impossible to reverse them.

Congressional Oversight: While the IRA may be safe from legal challenges, we expect that a Republican controlled house will use its oversight powers to review almost all aspects of the IRA and other programs that address climate change. This could certainly cause some delays in the implementation of the IRA’s programs and slow or halt other efforts to address climate change such as the SEC’s plan to require ESG reporting. For example, comments from Rep. Garland “Andy” Barr of Kentucky, a member of the House Financial Services Committee, indicated that ESG principles, “will be one of the major focuses of oversight of a Republican majority” adding that “My view is that ESG investing is a cancer within our capital markets,” Barr said. “It is a fraud on American investors.”

On the state level, we have already seen several states, pushing back against BlackRock and other investment firms that prioritize ESG principles. Texas has passed legislation that restricts the state’s retirement and investment funds from doing business with firms that “boycott” the oil and gas sector. Echoing this approach, Louisiana Treasurer John Schroder recently pulled $794 billion in pension fund money from BlackRock funds due to their use of ESG criteria in making investment decisions. “Your blatantly anti-fossil fuel policies would destroy Louisiana’s economy,” Schroder said. “In my opinion, your support of ESG investing is inconsistent with the best economic interests and values of Louisiana,” Schroder said.

Other than some minor changes to the approval process to FERC commissioners, we cannot think of other ways that a change in House or Senate leadership will impact federal energy policy – but as noted above, there is no shortage of ways in which the House and Senate can investigate the energy industry.

Looking past the mid-terms, if a Republican candidate is elected President in 2024, we might see an effort to pass legislation repealing the IRA. When President Donald Trump was elected in November 2016, Vice President Mike Pence stated, “President elect Donald Trump will prioritize repealing President Barack Obama’s landmark health care law right ‘out of the gate’ once he takes office.”

But as I expect will be the case with the IRA, once the energy community is offered the $369 billion in incentives, it will be very difficult for a future administration to repeal these benefits.

Permitting Reform: While repealing the IRA may be top of mind, the fate of Sen. Manchin’s effort to expedite permitting of critical energy infrastructure is equally important. In the run up to passage of the IRA, Senate Majority Leader Schumer agreed to support Manchin’s permitting bill (which included a requirement that Federal Agencies approve the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline that Manchin supports) in exchange for Manchin’s support of the IRA. The bill seemed to be a good compromise, angering both Republicans who said it did not do enough for the fossil fuel industry and Democrats who said it did too much.

After the mid-term elections, it will be interesting to see if the Manchin bill can form the basis of bipartisan legislation that addresses the need to upgrade the nation’s energy infrastructure. As we note in the last section of this letter, there is a growing consensus among all participants that the grid envisioned by the energy transition does not yet exist. A recent Washington Post story is emblematic of the issue faced by new generation and transmission projects across the nation.

In this case, nearly ten years into the permitting process, a geo-thermal company had started construction of a plant that would provide carbon free energy to California residents. Late into this process, developers found out that: (i) the warm water drawn from the earth to power generation may threaten a rare toad, and (ii) the project’s location impinges on a sacred healing place for the Shoshone Tribe. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has ordered the project stopped, while the Bureau of Land Management has pointed to the project as one of the ways the Biden administration is successfully confronting the climate crisis. This is just the kind of permitting delay that the Manchin bill was designed to address.

Intermittent Resources and The Energy Transition

Intermittent resources are generating assets that are not continuously available such as electricity that comes from wind farms and solar arrays. The growth of intermittent generation continues to challenge system operators who are responsible for ensuring a reliable supply of electricity. In the balance of this letter, we discuss ways in which intermittent supplies are challenging three markets, ERCOT, the New England ISO (NEISO) and New York ISO (NYISO).[1]

ERCOT: In ERCOT, the state in the country with the highest volume of wind and solar generation, we are clearly seeing the challenge that intermittent generation places on the system operators responsible for managing the reliability of the grid. As shown in Figure 1, on one day in Mid-October, wind resources generated approximately 18,000 MWs in the morning and only 1,200 MWs in the afternoon. The variation of solar output is equally dramatic. The chart below shows the combined hourly output of wind and solar over the last several weeks.

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Topics: Markets Natural Gas NYISO ERCOT Sustainability Newsletters Education Renewables
4 min read

When Crude Goes Down, Gas Goes Up

By 5 on September 29, 2022

Often in commodity trading, it isn’t always the straight-forward market drivers that catch the market off guard. Rather it’s the counter-intuitive things that seem to side-swipe a market. Lately, there has been a negative correlation between the price of crude oil and the price of natural gas. This summer, a decrease in the price of crude oil has coincided with a rally in natural gas prices. This month, the inverse relationship between these two commodities will be examined in more detail.

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Topics: Markets Natural Gas
5 min read

The European Energy Crisis

By 5 on September 29, 2022

Imagine the reaction of a modest homeowner in America who received an invoice from their electric utility that was more than $1,000 per month, or a monthly natural gas bill that exceeded $500. While these figures may seem outrageous, this is the situation that many in Europe are facing as they head into the fall and winter heating season. Anyone who has shopped for natural gas or electricity knows that prices have consistently increased over the last 18 months. Many homes and businesses are seeing electricity and natural gas rates that are between three and five times higher than previous contracted rates. And while there is no question that this is painful, the situation in the United States is not nearly as desperate as it is in Europe. The chart in Figure 1 shows that the price of natural gas for January delivery at the Dutch TTF trading hub peaked in late August at over $100/MMBtu. Domestically, on August 23, that same contract hit its maximum value of $9.77/MMBtu, making the European price of natural gas ten times more expensive than in the United States for that October contract. Circumstances are similar in Europe’s electricity markets. In late August, wholesale electricity prices in France were more than five times the wholesale price of electricity in New York City. As Figure 1 shows, the price of that January contract has fallen in Europe (and domestically) over the last month, but it also illustrates the dramatic difference in energy prices on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Topics: Markets Natural Gas
3 min read

A Fundamentally Different Market

By 5 on August 31, 2022

Earlier this year, we wrote an article describing the rapid acceleration of price volatility in the natural gas markets, with a chart that showed daily price movement at the Henry Hub, the national benchmark trading hub for natural gas. In this chart, shown in Figure 1, the y-axis is the daily price change in natural gas prices over the last ten years. A negative number means the price went down and a positive number means the prices increased during that day’s trading session. This chart shows that since the summer of 2021, there is a higher degree of scatter among the data points, indicating that gas prices have become increasingly volatile over the past 12 months. One interesting feature that this data shows is this volatility has not been predominantly in one direction, or skewed to either the upside or downside, rather, it has been evenly distributed around the mean.

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Topics: Markets Natural Gas
3 min read

Pushing the Volatility Envelope

By 5 on July 28, 2022

What is Driving the Extreme Volatility in the Natural Gas Market?

The NYMEX Henry Hub prompt month future contract continued to push the volatility envelope this past month, with the daily change for August delivery exceeding $0.37/MMBtu. This is significant because the average daily change over the previous twelve July’s average was approximately $0.05, with a maximum average daily change of $0.08 back in 2012 (See Figure 1). Last month, we wrote about the explosion at the Freeport LNG plant south of Houston, Texas, and how it affected both international and domestic prices for natural gas.

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Topics: Markets Natural Gas
8 min read

July 2022- Quarterly Market Letter

By Jon Moore on July 26, 2022

On behalf of the team at 5, I am pleased to forward our market letter for the second quarter of 2022. The dramatic increase in the price of electricity and natural gas noted in our Q1 letter continued its upward climb in Q2, fueled primarily by the war in Ukraine and its impact on the price of LNG. This dramatic increase is shown in Figure 1.

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Topics: Markets Natural Gas Sustainability Newsletters Education Renewables
4 min read

Recent Events Cause Gas Correction

By 5 on June 29, 2022

On Wednesday, June 8, 2022, from 10:00 AM to about 12:00 PM CDT, the July contract for NYMEX Henry Hub was trading around $9.60 per MMBtu. Even so, $9.60 is not an all-time high price for NYMEX Henry Hub. During the fall of 2005, after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita significantly reduced oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, the Henry Hub contract settled above $9.60 from September through January before settling back down below $9.00 in February 2006. Additionally, during the spring and summer of 2008, April through August settled above $9.00. Since September 2008, no month has settled above $9.00. So, on the morning of June 8, after rallying up 30¢ from the previous night’s closing price of $9.30, it looked like natural gas would again test the $10 mark for the first time in nearly 15 years. Then there was an explosion at a plant due South of Houston, near a small town called Freeport, Texas.

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Topics: Markets Natural Gas
4 min read

All Bull No Bear

By 5 on May 31, 2022

Natural Gas Update for May 2022

This past month, the US natural gas market continued the recent trend that was established in mid-February. Strong bullish tendencies set new highs and blew past previous resistance levels (ceilings or limits to the upside) while also setting new support levels for any possible retracement in the future. Figure 1 shows how the June contract settled with daily candlestick bars. And while the curve seems to have given up its exponential shape from early April, it now appears to maintain a linear upward trend. The previous two market retracements during this sustained rally both took place directly after touching the psychological resistance levels of $8.00 in mid-April, and again at $9.00 in early May, otherwise, the market has been on a consistent upward trend.

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Topics: Markets Natural Gas
3 min read

Gas Prices Going Vertical, Mav

By 5 on April 29, 2022

Over the last few months, these updates have focused on the steady run-up in natural gas prices, and the correlation between US natural gas prices and gas prices in other parts of the world, specifically the price of LNG in Asia and Europe. Each month it may seem like a broken record (pun intended, get it?) as we report that wholesale natural gas prices have hit new, record highs. This month, domestic natural gas soared to 10+ year highs, which pushed short-term forward prices to levels we have not seen since early 2008. The last time prices were this high, this country was in the midst of “the Great Recession” and “hydraulic fracturing” was just emerging as a technology that sent a very volatile gas market into a decade of slowly declining prices.

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Topics: Markets Natural Gas Procurement
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