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Electricity and Rock: Still Not Friends

By Evelyn Teel

In a previous blog post, we discussed findings from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) that the I-95 corridor is particularly at risk of grid outages in the event of a geomagnetic storm. You can read that blog post here:

Further research has been conducted, and a new report from the USGS was released earlier this year. You can read the full report here:  

The research is based on measurements from geomagnetic observatories and magnetotelluric survey sites throughout the United States, and models the impact of a once-per-century geomagnetic superstorm. Based on more than three decades of field data, the researchers modeled the voltages that could be generated within US high-power transmission lines in the event of a superstorm. 

In addition to the previously identified risks along the East Coast, the report identified three additional areas of high risk: the Pacific Northwest; the Upper Midwest; and the Denver, Colorado area. The analysis only covered two-thirds of the continental United States, so unidentified areas of high risk may still exist in the South and Southwest of the country.

The two images below, from the report, illustrate modeled voltages and electric fields throughout the US transmission grid. Lighter colors indicate higher risk.

Lucas, G.,  Love, J. J.,  Kelbert, A.,  Bedrosian, P. A., &  Rigler, E. J. ( 2020).  A 100‐year geoelectric hazard analysis for the U.S. high‐voltage power grid. Space Weather,  18, e2019SW002329.

Areas of high risk are largely attributable to the geological structures of those areas, for example the crystalline rocks of the Superior Craton in the Upper Midwest and the crystalline rocks of the Piedmont Province in the Eastern US, which trends northeast-southwest from Maine to Georgia between the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Coastal Plain. These electrically resistive rocks (i.e., rocks that impede the flow of electricity) in the upper mantle generate a higher geoelectric hazard. Simply put, if the generated electricity would not be absorbed into the ground, it could cause extensive damage as it remains on the surface. The interaction of the geologic structure with the geoelectric fields and the transmission line geometry results in higher storm-induced voltages on the power grid along with a higher probability of more extensive grid damage.

Geomagnetic storms and their effects do not come without warning. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) reports on global magnetic deviations throughout the day, using a measure called the K-index. Working with data collection centers around the world, SWPC consolidates readings into a global Kp index every three hours. SWPC is also able to issue alerts when values surpass specific thresholds, which serves as a warning system for potential geomagnetic issues. More information about the K-index can be found here: and current and historical planetary K-indices can be found here:

Further research is ongoing, and there is certainly more to learn about this natural hazard. Ideally the data will be used by utility companies to evaluate the risks within their own geographies, identify potential solutions, and even possibly use this information to inform future transmission grid construction. Though not covered in the report, geomagnetic storms also can impact distribution lines, electricity generation facilities, and related equipment; the entities that oversee these components of the electric system should also evaluate their risks and take action where possible. Canada and Finland have taken technological steps to reduce the impact of geomagnetic storms, such as through transformer design (, that can inform approaches within the United States. 

On an individual basis, as we noted previously, there are not many options for mitigating this hazard. Some facilities may choose onsite or distributed generation as a mitigation (you can learn more about distributed energy resources here:; however, depending on the types of distributed energy resources used and the strength and geographic impact of the geomagnetic storm, distributed resources may also be susceptible to failure. Faraday cages can block electromagnetic fields, though they also can block helpful signals like radio waves, cell phone signals, and wi-fi. 

Our modern reliance on electronics makes us particularly susceptible to geomagnetic storms at this point in history. Previous storms have knocked out communication channels and caused blackouts, though the largest known storms occurred before the huge explosion in electronics we have seen in the past few decades. The Carrington Event in 1859 was the largest recorded geomagnetic storm, while a much smaller 1989 storm caused a blackout in Quebec, Canada. You can learn about these events and more on NASA’s website:

We will continue to keep an eye on this developing research, and will share any additional findings as they are published. In the meantime, we count ourselves lucky to live in a time when the scientific community understands this issue, is doing the research necessary to gauge the impact, and may find ways to mitigate the effects.

Thank you to Jeff Dowdell and Ralph Russell for their contributions to this article.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at 

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All images copyright 2020 Avalon Energy® Services LLC, unless otherwise noted.

Copyright 2020 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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Wind Power, Transmission Lines, and a Vision for a Better Electric Grid

By Evelyn Teel

Wind energy is an incredible resource with incredible potential. The generation costs are low, the efficiency of turbines continues to increase, and the threat to birds continues to decline. An unfortunate irony, however, is that the places with the most prolific wind energy tend to be places with relatively little demand for power.

West Texas, the Dakotas, Kansas, the Oklahoma panhandle – these are all places where the wind blows powerfully and fairly consistently. However, getting electricity generated by that wind to the population centers that most need it is challenging in the current environment. The decentralized nature of the US power grid means that moving electricity across state lines and between regions is difficult, and sometimes seemingly impossible. 

A wind farm

Several people have envisioned networks of high-voltage transmission lines that could move power from areas of abundant wind energy (as well as solar energy) to areas that could use that power. Russell Gold’s book Superpower centers on one of those people.

Michael Skelly conceptualized a series of high-voltage, direct current transmission lines radiating out from the center of the United States to points east and west. Little did he realize, however, quite how complicated it would be to implement that vision. With differing economic, political, regulatory, and cultural realities in different states, overlain by the interests and powers of the federal government, Michael Skelly’s company, Clean Line Energy Partners, would require agreement from myriad stakeholders in order to make their project a reality.

High-voltage transmission lines and supporting tower

Though Superpower focuses primarily on Michael Skelly – including earlier ventures that prepared him for the task at hand – the author incorporates a wealth of information about the history of the electric grid and the energy field. He provides fascinating background about major developments that have led to the system we have in place today, from the first factory with generator-powered electric lights to the first centralized power plants to the first “experiment” in which wind energy was fed back into the electric grid. He also illustrates the massive declines in the cost to generate wind energy, along with the growth in the size of wind farms.

The electric grid has evolved over time such that electricity is generated and used within the same general area – first, within the same building; then, the same city; and now, the same region. In order for renewable energy to provide a sizeable percentage of our electricity needs, the next step in that evolution will need to be transmission lines that allow electricity to be moved across regions. The book’s extensive discussions of the various players in this drama – utility companies, public service commissions, elected officials, landowners, federal agencies – and their interests and motivations bring clarity to the challenges facing anyone attempting to modernize the grid. It is also fascinating to learn how differently various states approach the energy industry, and how state and federal powers intersect.

Russell Gold is clearly very sympathetic to Michael Skelly and comes across at times as more cheerleader than reporter. However, looking beyond the fanfare, the reader can gain a strong understanding of the challenges facing the US as we seek to incorporate more renewable energy, update the electric grid, and increase the resilience of our power supply.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at

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

All images copyright 2019 Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at

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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Maryland Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) – Veto Override

Last week, the Maryland House and Senate voted to override Governor Larry Hogan’s 2016 veto of the 2016 Clean Energy Jobs bill.  As a result, Maryland’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) will increase from 20% in 2022 to 25% in 2020.  The graph below shows the effect of the original RPS rule in blue overlaid with the newly amended rule in red.

Maryland’s solar “carve out” will increase as well as shown below.

Regulatory guidance is that customers with executed retail electric contracts in place prior to the effective date of the override are grandfathered from the additional RPS costs until the expiration of the grandfathered contract.

This is a good time to consider extending your electricity supply contracts to year 2021.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.AvalonEnergy.US, email us at, 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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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  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 1

By Ana Rasmussen, Intern

Since the shale boom began in earnest during 2008, natural gas prices in the US wholesale market have fallen dramatically. Prices have hovered within the 2 to 6 dollar per million Btu (mmBtu) range over the last few years, with the prompt month NYMEX natural gas contract trading at a remarkably low $1.70 mmbtu today. As we have been reporting for some time, wholesale electricity prices have also experienced a similarly dramatic decline, although that relationship has been weakening in recent months (see Natural Gas and Electricity Are Parting Ways – Part 1 and Natural Gas and Electricity Are Parting Ways – Part 2).  Given the decline in wholesale electricity prices, many of our readers have asked us why they have not seen a similar decline in their home electricity bills.

To answer this question we examined electric utility bills from a typical Maryland residence from the last 10 years and broken down the different charges included in the total cost. First, if you single out generation and transmission (G&T) charges during this time period, you can see in the graph below that they have been more or less in decline since the end of 2008. G&T charges represent the costs of producing electricity and of moving high voltage electricity from generation facilities to distribution lines.

However, this does not give us the whole picture. Our electricity bills are not only based on G&T, but distribution costs as well. As you can see below, while generation and transmission have been declining, distribution charges have actually been rising. Distribution charges include the costs of maintaining, expanding and improving the electric system to deliver electricity from high voltage transmission system to customers, homes and businesses, as well as the utility’s depreciation expense and return on rate base.  Other components of distribution costs include, but are not limited to, grid resiliency, environmental surcharges and county energy taxes.

Ultimately, simultaneously falling G&T charges and rising distribution charges are to blame for the lack of change in our electric utility bills at home, even with wholesale prices so low. In the final graph you can see the total utility bill charges have remained relatively stable as a result of this gradual cost shift from G&T to distribution over the last few years.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.AvalonEnergy.US, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at  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.Blog 058 - image 04



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Natural Gas and Electricity Are Parting Ways – Part 2

In our last article, Natural Gas and Electricity Are Parting Ways – Part 1, we explored the weakening correlation between wholesale natural gas prices and electricity prices in the Mid-Atlantic.  While natural gas prices have fallen dramatically over the past seven years, and electricity prices have fallen as well, electricity prices have not fallen as far.  We discussed how this weakening relationship is, in part, a result of natural gas-fired generating units more and more often being dispatched before coal-fired units.  In this article, we look at the influence of capacity prices.


The cost of energy delivered by a competitive supplier consists of several elements—generation, capacity, transmission, and ancillary services.  Costs to suppliers resulting from PJM’s energy auctions are reflected in competitive suppliers’ generation charges.  Competitive suppliers are also required to own or to reserve generation capacity.  PJM runs separate capacity auctions to place a price on this capacity.  These auctions establish capacity prices for each of the three consecutive future planning years.

Polar Vortex 

During the depths of the Polar Vortex of January 2014 (see What Does Volatility Look Like?), there were times when more than 20% of generation capacity in PJM was unable to respond when dispatched by the grid operator.  The grid operator then had to call upon non-economic (meaning more costly) resources to fill in, some of which also were unable to respond.  The grid came within a few thousand megawatts of brownouts, and prices soared to more than $2,600 per megawatt hour during some hours.

Capacity Performance

Clearly more reliable generation capacity was required.  PJM proposed, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved, a change in regulation creating a new Capacity Performance product.  With Capacity Performance, PJM established new, more stringent requirements for generation regardless of weather conditions and system conditions, and also established onerous penalties in the event that generation does not respond when called.  Most generators bid their capacity again during two Transitional Auctions, for the planning years 2016/2017 and 2017/2018. As a result, due to this change in regulation, capacity prices have been reset higher for each of these two planning year periods.

The table above presents, for the 2016/2017 and 2017/2018 planning years, capacity prices that were originally established as part of Base Residual Auctions (BRA) and the new prices established as part of Capacity Performance (CP) Transition Auctions.

Additional investment was clearly needed in order to improve system reliability.  PJM’s strategy with Capacity Performance is, on the one hand, to provide generators “resources to invest in improvements in such areas as dual-fuel capability, securing firmer natural gas supplies and upgrading plant equipment,” while, on the other hand, imposing substantial penalties for non-performance.

These increased costs associated with Capacity Performance, which will be reflected in electricity prices, are unassociated with changes in natural gas prices and are another driver of the decline in correlation between electricity prices and natural gas prices.


– Evelyn Teel contributed to this article

– Capacity prices and quote from PJM website

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.AvalonEnergy.US, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at  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 2015 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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Natural Gas and Electricity Are Parting Ways – Part 1

In recent articles, we have explored the dramatic decline in natural gas prices over the past seven years.  See These Are Days To Remember and 10,000 Maniacs Were Right.

In the US Mid-Atlantic, natural gas and electricity prices have, over time, tended to move together.  While there has by no means been a perfect correlation between the two, the relationship has been strong.

Over the past 15 years, the coefficient of determination (R2) has averaged about 67% (see yellow line).  In other words, over this time period, 2/3 of the change in electricity prices can be explained by changes in natural gas prices.  More recently, however, the strength of this relationship has weakened and continues to weaken further (see red line).  Electricity prices have declined but not as precipitously as those of natural gas.

Why has this relationship weakened?  Two significant drivers relate to (i) dispatch order and (ii) capacity prices.

Dispatch Order

In scheduling energy to serve electricity users, the grid operator, PJM, utilizes a least-cost dispatch model.  PJM develops an expectation of projected system load on an hourly basis and then seeks bids from generators to supply energy to serve this load.  After bids have been submitted, for each hour, PJM accepts the lowest cost offers first and then works their way through higher price offers until sufficient supply has been cleared to match the projected load.  (There are a number of system constraints and complications that must be incorporated into the process, but this pretty much captures it.)  For each hour, the price at which the last megawatt-hour (MWh) clears sets the price for all the supply offers that clear in that hour.

For many years, the last generating units cleared were generally natural gas-fired units.  As a result, it has been these natural gas units that have set the price for electricity, leading to the strong link between natural gas prices and electricity prices.  A common understanding was that “as natural gas prices go, so go electricity prices.”

But now, low natural gas prices are leading to lower and lower supply bids by natural gas-fired generators, causing them to more frequently fall down the dispatch order and clear before coal-fired units.  Because of this, coal fired units are now more often becoming the marginal, or price-setting, units.  And, as a result, falling natural gas prices have not driven down electricity prices to the extent they once would have.

In addition to procuring energy, electricity wholesale suppliers must also own or procure capacity.  In our next article, we will look at how capacity costs influence electricity prices.

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  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 2015 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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Natural Gas Market Update

The above graph looks at natural gas prices going back to January 1997.

Natural gas prices have retreated from the Polar Vortex bump and remain relatively low by historical standards.

The prices plotted above are not adjusted for inflation.  If they were in 2014 dollars, the left side of the curve would be more elevated.  In real dollars, today’s prices are lower than they appear on the graph.

Looking to the futures market, the effects of the Polar Vortex lingered into the summer over concern about whether or not there was sufficient supply of natural gas to refill storage after the dramatic drawdowns during January and February.

This is highlighted on the left side of the blue line above which plots the 36 month futures curve as of 4/29/14.  This curve is backwardated, meaning the months close in time were priced above the months further out in time.

The near dated months have since retreated as concerns about storage refill have diminished because of (a) greater natural gas production than expected, and (b) unusually mild summer weather reducing summer time electricity load and the related reduced demand for natural gas.

This is highlighted on the red line above which plots the 36 month futures curve as of 10/24/14.  The months closer in time have declined significantly with the December ’14 contract down $1.26/mmBtu or 25%.  The entire curve has declined as well, though to a lesser extent.   The futures curve is no longer backwardated.

The table above shows the simple average of the monthly prices of the 36 and 48 month forward curves as of 4/29 and 10/24.

Overall, the 36 month futures curve is down 14.7% while the 48 month curve is down 12.7%.

The graph above looks further ahead at the 60 month futures curve which indicates that the market expects prices to rise.

While the curve is upward sloping, five years into the future, natural gas is trading well below $5/mmBtu.


Over the past six months, market sentiment has swung from concerns that natural gas supply cannot keep up with storage injections – and upcoming winter demand – to the reverse.  Now the talk is more about an oversupplied market.  While there is low correlation between crude oil and natural gas prices, the recent decline in crude oil prices has contributed to overall bearish sentiment.  Generally, the best time to go long is when the market sentiment is most negative.  We may be approaching that point for natural gas.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at


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 2014 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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In The News – Avalon Energy Services

Avalon Energy Services recently completed an electricity procurement project for KBS Capital Advisors’ One Washingtonian Center property in Gaithersburg, MD.  Marc Deluca, Regional President of KBS, noted that “Electricity markets have exhibited extreme volatility.  The folks at Avalon Energy Services have deep expertise and an unsurpassed understanding of the energy markets and how they work.  With their advice and counsel, we were able to successfully navigate our way to a very positive outcome. “

Click here for the full story.

Avalon Energy Services also recently became licensed by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to assist commercial, industrial and governmental natural gas customers in all of the natural gas distribution company service territories in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  These are:

  • Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania
  • National Fuel Gas Distribution Corporation
  • PECO Energy Company
  • Peoples TWP LLC
  • Peoples Natural Gas Company, LLC
  • Peoples Natural Gas, LLC – Equitable Division
  • Philadelphia Gas Works
  • UGI Utilities, Inc.
  • UGI-Central Penn Gas
  • UGI-Penn Natural Gas
  • Valley Energy, Inc.

Avalon Energy Services is now licensed for electricity and natural gas in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the District of Columbia.

Copyright 2014 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC