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Factbox: Power demand, prices begin to slip as coronavirus stay-home orders spread

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Factbox: Power demand, prices begin to slip as coronavirus stay-home orders spread

Houston — As impacts of the coronavirus spread, regional transmission operators and independent system operators are seeing new and evolving energy usage patterns pegged to the increasing number of Americans isolated at home. However, such demand changes may be difficult to forecast given the unprecedented nature of the growing pandemic.

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Power demand has started to drop across the US as cities, counties and states issue stay-home orders to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but operators note that the changes so far are not significant given seasonal weather variances that also impact load.

Grid operators and power generators continue to monitor the situation and analyze the impacts to the power grid as people transition to working and schooling from home with the majority of public buildings and spaces now closed.

However, given the small data set currently available -- many stay-home orders went into effect in the last week or two -- no major trends have yet appeared and operators continue to watch for defined patterns that could shift power usage.

Many grid operators have noted a delay in the morning ramp and the afternoon peak due to a large portion of the population staying in their homes due to school and business closures. S&P Global Platts Analytics also has noted some declines in natural gas usage from power generation, particularly in the US Northeast region. All regions state there have been no impacts to grid reliability.

PRICES

• New York Independent System Operator Zone J NYC on-peak day-ahead locational marginal prices in March fell 22% month on month and 52% year on year after a stay-home order was issued across the state March 20.

• ISO New England's Internal Hub on-peak day-ahead LMP prices in March were down 25% month on month and down 54% from a year ago.

• In California, SP15 and NP15 on-peak real-time prices fell 52.4% and 41.2%, respectively, from the first half of March to average $17.17/MWh and $20.24/MWh for the second half of the month as a stay-home order went into effect across California March 19.

• The SP15 on-peak April package has fallen 29% since mid-month when statewide stay-home orders were announced and has averaged 27% lower than where the 2019 package averaged a year ago.

• ERCOT North Hub on-peak July-August has fallen nearly $30 since the beginning of March, from $137.25/MWh to $107.79 as concerns rise that demand will remain low in the months to come due to coronavirus orders.

TRADE FLOWS

• Aggregate US power load declines are not noticeable yet as only parts of the country have decreased activity. It is hard to glean the drop from what would be implied by the milder weather so far year on year.

• Across the country, grid operators are seeing a slower-than-normal power usage ramp in the morning.

• Daily energy use on the NYISO grid has declined by roughly 2% to 3%, with daily peak energy use (the highest amount of energy used at any point during the day) about 2% below peak for this time of year.

• NYC average daily working week (Mon-Fri) loads last week were about 13% lower year on year, though weekend loads dropped by only about 7.5%. Recent load also has been below the five-year range (2015-19) on most days.

• NYISO month-to-date peakload is averaging about 9% below the five-year March peakload average, the biggest differential across the country, and down from 5.5% in February.

• From 6-10 am, a time when energy use typically ramps up as New Yorkers arrive at work, the grid operator is seeing a delay in the timing of the ramp and a reduction in usage of 6% to 9% relative to typical load patterns.

• NYISO has reportedly sequestered key control room operators onsite beginning March 23 to prevent them from contracting COVID-19.

• Flows into NYISO from neighboring PJM Interconnection are down 93% year on year to average less than 50 MW in March.

• ISO-NE is seeing a decline in system demand of approximately 3% to 5%, compared with what normally would be expected under weather conditions in the region

• Forecasters are seeing load patterns that resemble those of snow days, when schools are closed and many are home during the day.

• Avangrid CEO James Torgerson expects his company's utilities in New York and New England to see a decline in demand but says decoupling will mean revenue will "stay flat."

• Cal-ISO daily power demand averaged around 21,253 MW for March 16-30, down 6.6% from the first 15 days of March after public buildings were ordered closed.

• Following the statewide stay-at-home order, Cal-ISO has seen the most significant impacts during weekdays in San Francisco, PG&E Bay Area, and SCE regions.

• From March 17 - 28, Cal-ISO saw load reductions of 5% to 8% on weekdays and 1% to 4% on the weekend, with the heaviest impacts occurring over the morning peak hours. These reductions are due to a shift from commercial, restaurant, and retail hubs to residential consumption. It appears that while residential use is up, commercial use is a larger energy user, so the reduction in commercial use offsets any gains in the residential sector.

• Similar to its European counterparts, Cal-ISO observed load progressively decreasing as the order continues. Based on experiences in Italy and Spain, the ISO expects load reductions to level off about three weeks after the order's implementation.

• Load forecast errors have increased, due to a lack of historical statistical data for a pandemic event. Cal-ISO continues to take steps to reduce the load forecast errors in day-ahead and real-time markets.

• Cal-ISO solar curtailments have tripled in the back half of March. Between March 16-30, solar curtailments jumped to 3,834 MW, up from 1,260 MW in the first 15 days of March. Wind curtailments climbed to 57.5 MW in that same time span, up about 57%.

• Gas demand from power in the US Northeast over the weekend dipped to the lowest level of the year at 6.1 Bcf/d, which was similar to 2019 levels, but demand in Q1 2020 had been trending about 0.5 Bcf/d to 1.0 Bcf/d more than 2019 levels. Most of the current weakness in burns has been in New York City, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak.

• A Platts Analytics sample of deliveries of gas to power plants in New York City this past week has seen burns come in roughly 100-200 MMcf/d below 2019 levels. Transco Zone 6 NY gas basis traded as low as $(0.51) this past weekend, $0.30 lower than the month-on-month average.

INFRASTRUCTURE

• Many grid operators are splitting control room staff into separate teams that don't interact to decrease the spread of the virus.

• The Solar Energy Industries Association states 86% of solar companies are "very concerned or moderately concerned" about solar project construction delays. Orders for shipments are being cancelled "left and right, hurting manufacturers" and some companies are reporting 90- to 130-day delays for products, according to SEIA.

• Cancellation rates for residential solar systems are now "extremely high, hitting upwards of 50% in some sectors," said SEIA.

• AEP has told the Securities and Exchange Commission it could face global shortages that will impact its maintenance and capital programs "that we currently can't anticipate."

• The Dallas Federal Reserve says the Texas March factory output index has "declined sharply," from 16.4 in February to negative 35.3 in March.

• Federal Energy Regulatory Commission headquarters closed to visitors and most of the agency's staff are working remotely from home. Chairman Neil Chatterjee stressed that FERC remains fully functioning and would be able to complete its work through teleworking.

• Federal and state utility regulators have eyed collaboration as key to ensuring the continued availability of reliable electricity. FERC's Office of Electric Reliability said Friday it was not anticipating the reliability of the bulk electric system to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

• FERC joined with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners to urge all state authorities to designate utility workers, including line workers on the power grid and operators on pipelines, as essential to critical infrastructure, consistent with guidelines from the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued March 19.

• The regulated power sector has been promised regulatory flexibility to minimize operational impacts from efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus. For instance, FERC granted an extension to May 1 for a litany of non-statutory filings and forms and, in coordination with the North American Electric Reliability Corp., relaxed certain reliability standard requirements. Further, Chatterjee said the agency would take extenuating circumstances into account when evaluating compliance and enforcement matters.

• FERC's Office of Enforcement indicated that it has not seen an increase in questionable market activity, but was continuing to engage with market monitors and perform its other duties to ensure the proper functioning of competitive markets. In line with social distancing guidelines, the office has postponed in-person audits and investigative testimony as well as opted to forego initiating any new investigations until July.

• NERC, through business continuity procedures, is sustaining operations of the Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center (E-ISAC), which serves as the power sector's primary security communications portal for analyzing physical and cyber threat information. In addition to sharing threat information, the E-ISAC is now also providing situational awareness regarding COVID-19.