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Winter precipitation builds up Southwest US hydro outlook, pulls down prices


BPA hydro market share reaches lowest March on record

SP15 June falls 19% below 2022 package last year

  • Author
  • Kassia Micek
  • Editor
  • Richard Rubin
  • Commodity
  • Electric Power Energy Transition

Southwest US power forwards are falling as significant winter precipitation has strengthened the hydro generation outlook after years of drought. But the Northwest is in the opposite situation, with reduced exports into California.

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After the three driest years on record, recent rain and snowfall have dramatically changed conditions in many parts of California, leading Governor Gavin Newsom to ease drought emergency provisions, according to a March 24 statement.

"The weather whiplash we've experienced in the past few months makes it crystal clear that Californians and our water system have to adapt to increasingly extreme swings between drought and flood," Newsom said. "As we welcome this relief from the drought, we must remain focused on continuing our all-of-the-above approach to future-proofing California's water supply."

Drought improvements

The effects of recent wet weather will continue to be analyzed in the coming weeks, while slight improvements to lingering abnormal dryness were made in southwestern California this week, according to the latest US Drought Monitor.

"Large areas of severe and extreme drought in northern Nevada, northern Utah, Oregon, southern Idaho and northern Montana saw improvements due to recent precipitation and lessening precipitation deficits," according to the US Drought Monitor's weekly summary. "Due to increased soil moisture and lessened precipitation deficits, improvements to ongoing long-term drought and abnormal dryness were also made in southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico, and in portions of south-central and northwest New Mexico."

In the Northwest, there will be significant year-on-year declines in hydro generation, unless precipitation increases above normal as it did last year, said Morris Greenberg, senior manager of North American power analytics with S&P Global Commodity Insights.

"In case of very hot weather in the Northwest, supplies should be adequate, but prices will likely be high given supplies heading to California under resource adequacy contracts and Washington carbon costs," Greenberg said.

Power forwards

The boost to the hydro outlook, indicating more generation supply, has pulled down power forwards across the Southwest.

The SP15 on-peak June package is currently in the low $50s/MWh, a drop of about 19% from where the 2022 package was a year ago, according to pricing data from Platts, a part of S&P Global Commodity Insights. That's a sharp reversal from the start of the year, when the 2023 package was 60% higher than its 2022 counterpart last year.

Likewise, Palo Verde on-peak June is currently in the mid-$80s/MWh, 6.6% below it's 2022 counterpart a year ago and an eight-month package low, according to Platts data. The June 2023 package started the year at $130.60/MWh, 32% higher than the 2022 package last year.

Meanwhile, a weaker hydro outlook in the Northwest is driving up power forwards there.

Mid-C on-peak June is currently in the mid-$70s/MWh, 70.2% above the 2022 package a year ago, according to Platts data. However, that's an improvement from where the package started the year at 146% higher than it's 2022 counterpart a year ago.

Hydro outlook

The Shasta Dam water supply forecast is currently at 113% of mean for the April-July forecast period, according to the California Nevada River Forecast Center. Shasta Dam is located near Redding, where the month-to-date precipitation is 6.09 inches above normal, according to the US National Weather Service.

"Record snowpack in California should result in very strong hydro output during Q2 and it will remain high into Q3 as well," Greenberg said. "Reservoirs will be full restoring capacity at storage projects. Between that and incremental battery capacity, California should be in better shape from a resource adequacy standpoint."

Further north, month-to-date precipitation at The Dalles, Oregon, is down 0.5 inch from normal, according to the weather service.

The water supply forecast at The Dalles Dam, located on the Columbia River separating Oregon and Washington, is currently at 85% of normal for the April-September forecast period, unchanged month on month, but a drop of 10 points year on year, according to NWRFC data. The water supply forecast year runs Oct. 1-Sept. 30.

The Dalles Dam serves as the barometer for hydro conditions in the region, indicating potential surplus energy for imports into California from the Northwest. Less hydro generation in the Pacific Northwest translates to less generation available for exports to neighboring regions.

Hydro market share

Northwest hydro market share is down 18 percentage points to account for nearly 55% of the total fuel mix for March 23, the lowest March hydro market share on record and a five-month low, according to Bonneville Power Administrator data.

CAISO imports so far this year have already fallen to as much as 25 percentage points below year-ago levels, according to California Independent System Operator data. Imports dropped to 5.1% of the total fuel mix on March 8, a one-year low.

Meanwhile, California hydro-powered generation market share is nearly double year-ago levels, averaging 14% of total fuel mix in the last week, according to CAISO data. Hydro reached a nearly 3.5-year high of 15.3% March 19.