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Shale We Review the 2010s?

By Evelyn Teel and Jim McDonnell

With the decade coming to a close, this is a perfect opportunity to look back at how the energy market has changed over the past ten years. It has certainly been a whirlwind ride, starting shortly after the 2008 stock market crash and continuing through the Great Recession and the subsequent recovery. The decade also saw the shale gas revolution take hold. Arguably the most significant change in the energy market over the past ten years, the shale gas revolution has not only provided great economic benefit within the United States but also reshaped our position on the world stage.

The two technologies instrumental to the shale gas revolution – hydraulic fracturing (i.e., fracking, or inducing porosity and permeability in rock) and directional drilling (greatly increasing a wellbore’s exposure to hydrocarbon bearing formations) – have been around for decades. However, Texan George P. Mitchell of Mitchell Energy & Development Corp., through sheer determination and personal will over seventeen years, was able to advance and combine these technologies, thus enabling the extraction of natural gas from shale formations that are of low porosity (i.e., not much pore space in the rock) and low permeability (i.e., the pore spaces are not well interconnected). These formations underlie large swaths of the United States, and the proven reserves of natural gas have consistently increased over the past decade.

The shale gas revolution is commonly considered to have started in 2008, and in the 2010s, we have witnessed the remarkable changes that have resulted from its growth. As fracked wells have come online, the ready supply of low-cost natural gas has transformed the energy industry in America and the world. The graph below on the left shows the volume of natural gas produced daily in the United States between 1997 and 2010, measured in billions of cubic feet per day (Bcf/day). Production over this period remained relatively flat, averaging about 50 Bcf/day. Compare that to the graph on the right, which shows the volume of natural gas produced in the United States from 2010 to the present. The volume of natural gas produced daily has very nearly doubled to about 93 Bcf/day.

Though demand for natural gas has increased, the more dramatically increasing supply of natural gas has driven down its price. The graph below shows how US natural gas prices at the Henry Hub have declined from about $6 per million Btu (mmBtu) to $2.19 per mmBtu today.  

Due to the increased availability of cheap, abundant natural gas, an increasing number of liquified natural gas (LNG) export terminals have come online, and the United States has become a major exporter of LNG. This reverses a long-term trend of rising LNG imports. The graphs below show US LNG imports and exports from 1985 – 2009 (left) and 2010 – 2019 (right).

In most parts of the country, natural gas prices and electricity prices are strongly correlated. As natural gas prices move so do, generally, electricity prices. Thus, as natural gas prices have fallen, electricity prices have fallen as well. The graph below shows wholesale electricity prices in the Mid-Atlantic measured in dollars per megawatt-hour ($/MWH). Wholesale electricity prices are almost half of what they were ten years ago.   

The abundance of natural gas and the declining prices of natural gas and electricity have been driven by the dramatic increase in shale gas production.  

The map and graph below identify the regions and geological “plays” in the US where shale gas production is occurring. Shale gas production has increased to two-thirds of this rising total US natural gas production from only a minor contribution only ten years ago.    

Source: US DOE EIA

Though many people doubted fracking would work with crude oil deposits, as oil molecules are much larger than those of natural gas, Mark Papa of EOG Resources, Harold Hamm of Continental Resources, and others have been able to adapt fracking technology to the extraction of oil. We have thus seen a shale oil revolution take hold, which has brought benefits similar to those of the shale gas revolution. It has driven down petroleum prices in the United States and dramatically reduced our dependence on foreign oil.  The US recently became a net exporter of oil products (refined petroleum and crude oil). Overall, the US is now the world’s largest producer of natural gas (93 Bcf per day versus 58 Bcf per day during 2010) and crude oil (13 million barrels per day versus 5.5 million barrels per day during 2010). 

The shale revolutions have significantly changed the US energy landscape over the past decade. They have brought online abundant sources of low-cost domestic energy, which have driven down consumer prices, boosted our economy, created jobs, improved America’s energy security, and increased revenue to state and local governments and the federal government. Fracking and directional drilling require a smaller footprint than traditional drilling, and have helped reduce CO2 emissions as natural gas is being substituted for coal in electricity generation. Low cost, abundant natural gas complements intermittent sources of energy such as wind and solar.

In addition to all the benefits noted above, low energy prices in the United States have expanded the manufacturing sector and made the country more attractive to companies willing to relocate from overseas. Indeed, the shale revolutions have done nothing less than improve the United States’ geopolitical position, reducing our dependence on foreign oil and shoring up our export capacity.

Like any fuel source, shale gas comes with trade-offs. There are concerns about induced seismicity, water and air pollution, and health impacts. Further technological advances and refinements in the field may alleviate these concerns, and we look forward to seeing how this industry progresses in the 2020s.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.avalonenergy.us, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at info@avalonenergy.us.

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All images copyright 2019 Avalon Energy® Services LLC

Copyright 2019 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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Maryland Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard – A Lot of Change for No Action

During this year’s legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly passed the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Act.  Maryland’s governor, Larry Hogan, then had until 30 days after the legislative session (i.e., until May 30) to sign the bill, veto the bill, or take no action.  By taking no action, the bill would automatically become law.  The governor took no action and the bill is now law. 

RPS

The new law increases Maryland’s renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS) from 25% by 2020 to 50% by 2030.  This is shown graphically below, along with Maryland’s original 2004 and 2017 RPS goals (also see Maryland RPS – Veto Override):

Solar Carve Out

The law also increases the “solar carve out” from 2.5% by 2020 to 14.5% by 2028.  This is a dramatic increase and is shown graphically below: 

The following table shows the Maryland solar carve out as a percentage of the total Maryland RPS, increasing from 10% in 2019 to about 30% in 2027 and beyond.

SRECs

Prior to the bill being passed by the Maryland legislature, Maryland renewable energy credits (SRECs) were trading at about $16 per megawatt-hour.  Upon passage of the bill, Maryland SRECs increased to about $47 per megawatt-hour.  With the bill now becoming law, Maryland SRECs have increased in value to $63 per megawatt-hour. 

Economic Value

A 45 megawatt solar project with a 15% capacity factor would generate 59,130 megawatt-hours per year:

45 megawatts x 15% CF x 8,760 hours per year = 59,130 megawatt-hours

Prior to the bill being passed by the Maryland legislature, 59,130 megawatt-hours of Maryland SRECs were worth $946,080 annually.  With the passage of the bill, this value increased to $2,779,110.  With the bill now law, the value has increased to $3,725,190.  Please note that this ignores transaction costs.

Thought of in units generally used in utility billing, these SREC values equate to an increase from 1.6 cents per kilowatt-hour to 6.3 cents per kilowatt-hour. 

This represents value to the owner of the SRECs in addition to the value received for the energy production from the solar facility. 

If the energy output of the solar project in this example is sold for 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, SRECs now add another 6.3 cents, for a total of 12.3 cents per kilowatt-hour.   

That’s a lot of change for no action. 

Note:  This Maryland legislation includes a grandfathering provision, meaning that customers who sign up for or extend their supply contracts before the grandfathering period ends are grandfathered from the additional RPS costs until the expiration of the grandfathered contracts.  This is a good time to consider extending your electricity supply contracts.  Contact us for more details.

Evelyn Teel contributed to this article.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.avalonenergy.us, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at info@avalonenergy.us.

Please feel free to share this article.  If you do, please email or post the web link.  Unauthorized copying, retransmission, or republication is prohibited.

Copyright 2019 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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Avalon Energy Services Turns 10 Years Old This Month

Late 2008/early 2009 was an unsettling time.  Bear Stearns was bailed out, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, the housing market collapsed, credit markets were frozen, the stock market fell more than 40%, the unemployment rate was approaching 10%, and energy markets were in turmoil.  The Great Recession was underway.  Despite this uncertainty, during April of 2009, Avalon Energy Services, LLC was established. 

More than a few of our family and friends suggested we were crazy to start a business during such a difficult economic time.  We probably were.  But, with expanded customer choice and intense energy commodity price volatility, confusion was immense and we saw a clear need among energy users for independent and objective energy-related advice.  Our belief was that with a singular focus on the individual needs of energy users, we could help.  So, we set off on a mission to help commercial and industrial customers “save energy and save money.” 

Today, energy users have more options than ever for energy procurement and usage, including onsite and offsite renewable energy, energy storage, and combined heat and power (CHP), to name just a few.  Sustainability has also become a major consideration, and customers have access to numerous options for ensuring their energy usage aligns with their needs and priorities. 

Referrals from satisfied customers have enabled Avalon to grow and serve an expanded market, but we continue to maintain a singular focus on each customer’s individual needs and priorities.  The turmoil of the Great Recession may have abated, but the need for professional guidance in navigating energy usage, procurement, and sustainability has only grown.  At ten years old, we are proud to continue to provide our customers with top quality independent and objective advice based on sound economics.

Evelyn Teel wrote this article.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.avalonenergy.us, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at info@avalonenergy.us.

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Copyright 2019 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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New England Electricity Rates: Quite a Difference

By Jim McDonnell and Evelyn Teel, Avalon Energy Services, LLC

Compared to the rest of the United States, electricity prices in New England are high.  Nothing surprising there.  So, just how expensive are they?  Well, it depends.  And, the surprising part is which utility, in one comparison, has the lowest rates.

First, some background.

Eversource Energy is an investor-owned utility headquartered in Hartford, CT and Boston, MA.  Eversource is the rebranded name of Northeast Utilities, after its merger with NSTAR in 2012.  Through its three electric distribution companies, Eversource operates New England’s largest energy delivery system and has 3.2 million electricity customers.          

United Illuminating Company, a subsidiary of Avangrid, Inc., is an electric distribution company serving 325,000 customers in Connecticut.  Avangrid, through its four electric utility subsidiaries, serves about 2.2 million customers in New England and New York State.     

Wallingford, Connecticut is a town of 45,000 people located between Hartford and New Haven.  Despite its size, the town operates its own municipal electric utility, known as the Wallingford Electric Division (WED). 

Despite operating in the same geographic area, the three utilities vary dramatically in terms of their rates and the costs to their consumers.

A recent bill insert sent out by WED provided the following rate comparison.  These are residential rates for an account that averages 750 kWh per month.  

Utilities have different energy procurement strategies and different infrastructure issues, which contribute to their varied pricing. Furthermore, municipal electric utilities are exempt from certain mandates that affect the pricing of larger utilities.  However, the 6.2 and 11.5 cents per kWh differences between a small municipal utility and the two large investor-owned utilities are dramatic. 

Note:  The WED bill insert was provided by Dan McDonnell of Wallingford, CT.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.avalonenergy.us, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at info@avalonenergy.us.

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Copyright 2019 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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Propane and Natural Gas – Birds of a Feather Not Flying Together

Propane is a versatile source of energy common in rural areas that are “beyond the main” of utility natural gas service.  It is often used for home space and water heating and cooking, as well as for agricultural uses such as crop drying, irrigation pump fueling, space heating in green houses, pig and poultry brooding, frost protection, standby electricity generation, and even food refrigeration.

Where does propane come from?

Propane is produced in association with natural gas (along with other natural gas liquids, or NGLs) and is also a byproduct of crude oil refining.  Because propane is a gas at atmospheric pressure, it is compressed into a liquid state under moderate pressure for storage and delivery.

The shale gas revolution has led to dramatic increases in natural gas production.

As previously reported, US natural gas prices have remained low for some time.  This is despite the existence of many influences that more recently would have driven natural gas prices upward (see Natural Gas Market Update, June 2018).

Because propane is produced in association with natural gas, along with the dramatic increase in US natural gas production has come a dramatic increase in US propane production.  As natural gas production has increased, so has NGL production.

With such an increase in propane supply, propane prices, like natural gas prices, are low – right?

No.

While natural gas prices have remained low (red line below), propane prices have risen significantly (blue line below).

    

Why?

Exports of propane from the US have grown and continue to grow.

Conclusion

Rural residential and agricultural customers who rely on propane rather than natural gas are not benefiting from the shale gas revolution to the extent that others are in the US.  Increasing propane exports are a major driver of this phenomenon.  This is another illustration of the complicated dynamics underlying energy commodity markets and an example of how those markets can change over time, often in unexpected ways.

Note:  Evelyn Teel contributed to this article.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.avalonenergy.us, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at info@avalonenergy.us.

Please feel free to share this article.  If you do, please email or post the web link.  Unauthorized copying, retransmission, or republication is prohibited.

Copyright 2018 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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Natural Gas Market Update, June 2018

Natural gas prices remain low and below their declining 21-year trend.  See graph below.

The prices presented here are for delivery at the Henry Hub in Southern Louisiana.  Natural gas prices in other producing areas of the US, such as Northeastern Pennsylvania, the Permian Basin, and the Williston Basin, are significantly lower.  The prices here are also in nominal dollars.  If plotted in real dollars, the downward trend would be even more pronounced (see These are Days to Remember).

Despite the current low price environment, there are a number of factors putting upward pressure on natural gas prices, including:

  • Increasing liquified natural gas (LNG) exports
    • Cheniere Sabine Pass trains 1-4 online
    • Cove Point terminal on the Chesapeake Bay ramping up
    • 11 additional liquification trains along the Gulf Coast in the works to come online in the next five years
  • Increasing pipeline exports to Mexico
    • Up more than 300% since the Great Recession
  • Increased industrial demand
    • Particularly in the petrochemical industry
  • Increased demand for natural gas-fired electricity generation
    • As coal plants retire
  • Natural gas storage levels down
    • Currently 25% below five-year average at this time of year

Given these influences, how do natural gas prices look in the futures market?  Low and continuing their decline.  See the graph below.

After peaking at $3.16/mmBtu during the winter of 2018/2019, natural gas prices remain below $3/mmBtu for the remainder of the 60-month forward period.

What is driving this?

Supply.  More specifically, dramatically increasing supply.

Natural gas production is up 7 Bcf/day from this time last year to 79 Bcf/day.  The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects US natural gas production will reach 83 Bcf/day by December 2018.

To see how much things have changed, read these older natural gas market updates:

Natural Gas Market Update October 2014

Natural Gas Market Update November 2013

Natural Gas Prices – Time to Hit the Panic Button?

Natural Gas Price – Looking Ahead January 2012

Natural Gas Price Drivers (January 2012)

As a result, natural gas (and electricity prices) are currently attractive—making this a good time to consider locking in your supply needs.

Note:  Evelyn Teel contributed to this article.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.avalonenergy.us, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at info@avalonenergy.us.

Please feel free to share this article.  If you do, please email or post the web link.  Unauthorized copying, retransmission, or republication is prohibited.

Copyright 2018 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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Balancing Congestion

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved a change in PJM’s (the Mid-Atlantic grid operator) tariff, allowing them to shift what are called “balancing congestion” costs to load serving entities.  FERC approved PJM’s tariff revision with an effective date of June 1.  Suppliers have indicated that they intend to pass through these charges.  Suppliers include a change of law or regulation provision in their agreements.  Basically, they commit to a fixed price, but allow for pass-throughs when there is a change in law or regulation.  Please email or call to discuss the potential impact of these charges to you.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.AvalonEnergy.US, email us at info@avalonenergy.us, or call us at 888-484-8096.

Please feel free to share this article.  If you do, please email or post the web link.  Unauthorized copying, retransmission, or republication is prohibited.

Copyright 2017 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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In The News – Avalon Energy Services, LLC

In his year-end review titled, “Gas Industry Looks Optimistically at 2017,” PointLogic author Kevin Adler quotes our COO, Jim McDonnell.  Scroll down to the bottom of the report which you can find here.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.AvalonEnergy.US, email us at info@avalonenergy.us, or call us at 888-484-8096.

Please feel free to share this article.  If you do, please email or post the web link.  Unauthorized copying, retransmission, or republication is prohibited.

Copyright 2017 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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Peak Oil – A Dramatic Turn of Events

In our May 20, 2015 article, we wrote that “Concerns and worry about Peak Oil are overstated and irrelevant.”  The article concluded, “With crude oil supplies increasing and the demand for crude oil slowing, and likely to continue to slow more, demand for crude oil will peak long before dwindling supplies of crude oil become a concern.”  Read the full Avalon Energy Peak Oil article here.

Yesterday, eighteen months later, the Wall Street Journal reported that major and state-owned oil companies are beginning to plan for the “mind-bending scenario” when global oil consumption crests and begins a permanent decline.  In response to this “peak oil demand,” these companies are beginning to increase their investments in petrochemicals, natural gas, cost reduction and alternative energy sources like solar and biofuels.

And, no less an industry player than Saudi Arabia is at the forefront of this trend.  Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Khalid al Falih is quoted in the WSJ article as stating at a recent conference, “Peak demand will be later than the common dates that are being thrown around, but if it does happen, because we’re building multiple engines for the economy and we’re planning for an economy beyond oil, we’ll be ready.”

A dramatic turn of events.  Predictable, but dramatic nonetheless.

Reference – “Oil Firms Anticipate Day of Reckoning,” The Wall Street Journal, November 28, 2016.

Evelyn Teel contributed to this article.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.AvalonEnergy.US, or call us at 888-484-8096.

Please feel free to share this article.  If you do, please email or post the web link.  Unauthorized copying, retransmission, or republication is prohibited.

Copyright 2016 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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Separate Paths – Part 2

By Ana Rasmussen, Intern

Our last blog post Separate Paths – Part 1 looked at how electricity distribution costs have been rising since 2008 and many of our readers have had questions about just why this is happening.  In order to explore this, and to try to get some answers, I dove in and analyzed seven years’ worth of Pepco electric bills from a representative home in Pepco’s Maryland service territory.  Before sharing my findings, I want to acknowledge that my base data is just from one household, which can be problematic for making generalizations.  However, the kWh rates for individual charges should be representative and similar for other residences in the area over these years.  I cannot account for differences in usage from one household to the next, but I believe this can shed some light on the larger shifts taking place within the utility cost structure.

First, once all of the data was collected and organized I looked at the percentages of the total bills that were from electricity distribution, transmission and generation.  As you can see in the charts below, a drastic transformation has taken place.  In 2009 distribution charges accounted for 24.6% of the total bill, but by 2015 it makes up 41.7% of it. The portion of the bill coming from transmission charges also more than doubles during this period resulting in generation’s share to fall to just over 50% of the total bill.  While generation’s portion of the bill has been falling, transmission and distribution have been on the rise since 2009.

Next, I decided to focus on distribution and breakdown the individual rates and charges included under distribution on the Pepco bills.  The four most important components of the distribution charge, and the way in which they are charged, are as follows:

Please note Pepco’s distribution energy charges are different from their generation energy charges.  Generation energy charges represent the cost of procuring energy for customers.  Distribution energy charges represent the cost of providing electricity delivery services to customers.  These distribution energy charges are billed on a kilowatt-hour usage basis.  So, while they are referred to as “energy charges,” they do not relate to the procurement of energy, only to the delivery of energy.

The customer charge is a flat rate charged once a month. Over this period, the charge has gradually risen from $6.65 to $7.39 a month. In the chart below you can see the yearly average rate for the other three primary components of distribution.  Although the Montgomery Country Energy Tax has fallen slightly since 2009, both distribution energy charge and Empower MD charge have risen.

Throughout this time period the average yearly distribution energy charge has been increasing, but to get a better understanding of it on a unit rates basis, I charted them by month. Below you can see how the rate falls in the winter months and rises during the summer months. Over the seven year period, the distribution energy charge has increased, on average, about 6.8% per year.  Also notable is the growing distance from peak to trough each year.

After an in depth look at seven years’ worth of residential Pepco electric utility bills, the shifts in generation, transmission and especially distribution have become more clear. Although far from perfect due to a lack of access a broader set of data, I hope that this analysis has been able to provide some insight on current trends and answer some of your questions.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.AvalonEnergy.US, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at jmcdonnell@avalonenergy.us.  Please feel free to share this article.  If you do, please email or post the web link.  Unauthorized copying, retransmission, or republication is prohibited.  Copyright 2016 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC.

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