On behalf of the team at 5, I am pleased to forward our September market letter. If you had any doubts that the energy transition is happening, recent events in Texas and New York confirm that the answer is yes. As discussed below, these states have very different approaches to energy regulation, and both have struggled to incorporate intermittent resources in the energy mix. For clients in Texas, New York, or any other deregulated market, planning for the challenges of the energy transition, including increased regulatory risk, should be a key component of your energy management strategy.
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On behalf of the team at 5, I am pleased to forward our February market letter. This letter discusses: (i) the recent fall in natural gas prices and increasing natural gas price volatility, (ii) the 188th Congress and the potential impact of the election on Federal and State energy policy in 2023, and (iii) how the electricity grid held up during Winter Storm Elliott and the February cold snap.
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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).
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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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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On behalf of the team at 5, I am pleased to forward our market letter for the first quarter of 2022. In this issue, we continue our focus on the energy transition and the strain that this has put on the energy market. Our last letter quoted Larry Fink of Blackrock on the importance of navigating the “global energy transition.” The past quarter’s events add geopolitical risks to the navigational challenges associated with this transition.
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“Few things will impact capital allocation decisions – and thereby the long-term value of your company – more than how effectively you navigate the global energy transition in the years ahead.” - Larry Fink, Blackstone CEO Letter 2022
On behalf of the team at 5, I am pleased to forward our market letter for the fourth quarter of 2021. This letter continues our focus on the conflict between regulations that promote low carbon energy production, and the strain that this energy transition puts on utility systems that must: (i) accommodate intermittent energy sources, and (ii) ensure reliable electric supply at a reasonable cost. California and Europe have taken aggressive regulatory action to reduce carbon emissions. Perhaps because of their early mover status, these markets are also good examples of the challenge faced by regulators overseeing the energy transition.
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On behalf of the team at 5, I am pleased to forward our market letter for the third quarter of 2021. World leaders convened in Glasgow on October 31st to address international commitments to lower greenhouse gas emissions. The energy market welcomed these delegates with a complex set of conditions that frame the challenge posed by the transition to a clean energy economy. These include historically high natural gas prices and significant energy shortages in several markets that moved aggressively to decarbonize their electricity grids: UK, Germany, and California. At the same time, energy shortages in China may undercut decarbonization efforts of the world’s largest carbon emitter.
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On behalf of the team at 5, I am pleased to forward our market letter for the second quarter of 2021. The unusual weather that caused historic outages and extreme electricity and natural gas prices in Texas in Q1 surfaced in other markets in Q2. Both the Pacific Northwest and the Western US faced extreme weather conditions, namely, heat. In Death Valley, temperatures hit 130 degrees on July 9, a world record for the hottest reliably measured temperature in recorded history.
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On behalf of the team at 5, I am pleased to forward our market letter for the first quarter of 2021. This letter focuses on the latest Black Swan event, Uri, the winter storm that hit Texas in mid-February. The storm caused a catastrophic loss of generation and triggered an extended period of extremely high energy prices. This letter provides: (i) a summary and chronology of the legal and regulatory proceedings that Uri has spawned; (ii) a snapshot of how the storm has impacted a variety of market participants including municipal utilities, wind farms, renewable purchasers, commercial and industrial buyers, and the natural gas market; and (iii) an overview of legislative efforts to address electric reliability in ERCOT.
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On behalf of the team at 5, I am pleased to forward our market letter for the fourth quarter of 2020. This issue revisits the 2020 election and discusses its potential impact on energy policy. Other topics covered include: (i) key energy provisions in the Stimulus Bill passed on December 29, 2020, (ii) green hydrogen, and (iii) the continued shift in generation from coal and nuclear to renewables. We conclude by noting the dramatic spike of LNG prices in Asia, a good reminder that, notwithstanding a long period of depressed pricing, electricity and natural gas remain volatile commodities that must be carefully managed.