PA Energy Boss Puts Heat on One Supplier
Philly.com | April 3, 2014
Pennsylvania's top utility regulator on Tuesday scolded one of the region's biggest electricity suppliers for imposing a surcharge on fixed-rate customers to recover some of its high winter costs.
Robert F. Powelson, chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, chided FirstEnergy Solutions (FES) for notifying customers that they will be hit with a onetime fee ranging from $5 to $15, even though those customers had signed up for fixed-rate deals.
"I think there's a stench associated with the request put forward by this company to recover these costs," Powelson told a hearing Tuesday of the Pennsylvania Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee.
Legislators on Tuesday said they were fielding calls from irate customers over the FirstEnergy surcharge. Powelson can sympathize: He signed up his Chester County home for an FES fixed-rate deal, and faces the charge, too.
"I would think in this world of open and honest disclosure, that fixed means fixed," Powelson said.
The outrage is the latest repercussion to arise after the polar vortex roiled energy markets, hammering natural gas, electricity, and propane customers. Tuesday's hearing was the second legislative inquest into soaring power costs.
Some customers with variable-rate electricity deals saw their monthly bills quadruple. Even apartment dwellers in Philadelphia whose buildings are served by the gas-fueled Veolia Energy steam system are facing huge bills.
Customers on fixed-rate agreements were largely immune from the price spikes until FES sent out notices last week that it was imposing a onetime surcharge to recover "ancillary charges" it had to pay to the region's grid operator, PJM Interconnection Inc.
FirstEnergy characterized the charge as a onetime "pass-through event" that was permitted under its agreement with customers.
Diane Francis, an FES spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview that the surcharge was small compared with the price swings that variable-rate customers endured.
"When you put it in perspective, we're comfortable with this," she said.
But Powelson, who has been a champion of competitive markets, took FES to task.
"We have had no other supplier in the market that has put forth this edict that they're going to recapture these ancillary charges," he said. "I'm a little concerned about the optics of this, and how we're going to have to deal with it."
Ohio regulators last week announced an investigation into the FES surcharge.
The Pennsylvania PUC in November tightened rules to prohibit suppliers from adding fees to fixed rates, so future customers should be spared.
But FES spokeswoman Francis said newer customers would be "given the option of accepting the charge." If they decline, she said, they will be terminated as customers, without penalty, and returned to the local utility.
FES is the retail marketing subsidiary of Akron energy giant FirstEnergy Corp. It has aggressively marketed its low-priced fixed-rate offers across the region, and its offers are typically among the best prices listed on the PUC's website, papowerswitch.com.
FES has 2.7 million retail customers, including 600,000 of Pennsylvania's 2.2 million customers that have switched to competitive suppliers.
Its parent company also owns 10 utilities, including Metropolitan Edison Co., and Jersey Central Power & Light Co.
U.S. Energy Imports Continued Decline in 2013
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | April 3, 2014
The U.S. imported far less energy in 2013 than it had 20 years ago as production of natural gas and oil from shale plays increased, according to a federal Energy Information Administration report released today.
Total U.S. net imports of energy, a measure that combines both petroleum and natural gas, declined in 2013 to their lowest level in more than two decades.
"Growth in the production of oil and natural gas displaced imports and supported increased petroleum product exports, driving most of the decline," according to the EIA. "A large drop in energy imports together with a smaller increase in energy exports led to a 19% decrease in net energy imports from 2012 to 2013."
Crude oil production grew 15 percent – about the same pace as in 2012 – which drove imports of crude oil down by 12 percent, accounting for much of the overall decline in imports, according to EIA data.
Net natural gas imports have been declining steadily over the past few years. In 2013, net gas imports were 1,311 billion cubic feet (Bcf), down from 1,519 Bcf in 2012 and 1,963 Bcf in 2011.
Meanwhile, Americans are consuming less of those energy imports than in past years. According to EIA data, net energy imports as a share of total consumption shrunk from 30 percent in 2006 to less than 20 percent in 2012.
That figure is expected to continue to fall.
EIA predicted that net energy imports as a share of total U.S. energy consumption will fall to 6 percent by 2020 and to 3 percent by 2035.
"Increasing onshore oil and natural gas production, aided by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies, will allow the United States to continue to reduce its net imports of crude oil and to increase refined product exports (such as diesel fuel to Europe) and become a net natural gas exporter later this decade," according to the EIA.
Natural Gas and Oil Market Update
Natural Gas Prices Increase Slightly
MarketWatch | April 3, 2014
Natural-gas futures on Thursday pared gains after the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that supplies of natural gas fell 74 billion cubic feet for the week ended March 28. The decline came in on the low end of market expectations as analysts surveyed by Platts forecast a fall of between 73 billion cubic feet and 77 billion cubic feet. Total stocks now stand at 822 billion cubic feet, down 878 billion cubic feet from a year ago and 992 billion cubic feet below the five-year average, the government said. May natural gas was at $4.38 per million British thermal units, up 2 cents, or 0.3%. It was trading at $4.40 before the data.
Brent Crude Rises From Five-Month Low
Bloomberg | April 3, 2014
Brent crude rose from the lowest level in almost five months amid concern that talks between the Libyan government and rebels won’t restore oil exports. West Texas Intermediate’s discount to Brent widened.
WTI traded below $100 as U.S. jobless claims rose more than forecast last week.
Brent for May settlement gained 23 cents to $105.02 a barrel at 10:46 a.m. New York time on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. Volume was 35 percent above the 100-day average. Prices fell to $104.79 yesterday, the lowest settlement since Nov. 7. The North Sea grade is used to price more than half the world’s oil, including exports from Libya.
WTI for May delivery declined 23 cents to $99.39 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The volume of all futures traded was 24 percent below the 100-day average.
WTI was at a discount of $5.63 to the European benchmark crude. The spread shrank to $5.17 yesterday, the narrowest level since October.
EIA - Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report
Working gas in storage was 822 Bcf as of Friday, March 28, 2014, according to EIA estimates. This represents a net decline of 74 Bcf from the previous week. Stocks were 878 Bcf less than last year at this time and 992 Bcf below the 5-year average of 1,814 Bcf. In the East Region, stocks were 448 Bcf below the 5-year average following net withdrawals of 46 Bcf. Stocks in the Producing Region were 410 Bcf below the 5-year average of 762 Bcf after a net withdrawal of 24 Bcf. Stocks in the West Region were 134 Bcf below the 5-year average after a net drawdown of 4 Bcf. At 822 Bcf, total working gas is below the 5-year historical range.
NYMEX Natural Gas Week-to-Week Price Change
Natural Gas Futures - Five Year Price
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