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ERCOT's natural gas-fired fleet extends lead over coal plants in February

Houston — Luminant Energy's retirement of its 1,200-MW coal-fired Big Brown power plant February 12 likely contributed toward the Electric Reliability Council of Texas' natural gas-fired fleet expanding its dominant market share in February, a report released Wednesday shows.

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ERCOT's monthly Demand and Energy report shows ERCOT's generation flow slid from about 1,009 GWh/day in January, which featured bitterly cold weather, to less than 920 GWh/d in a relatively mild February.

With lighter demand, one would expect power price weakness, which did occur. At the ERCOT North Hub, the grid's most liquid, average day-ahead on-peak locational marginal prices plunged more than 44% to $24/MWh in February, compared with more than $43/MWh in January, according to S&P Global Platts data.

As it was with power, so it was with gas. At the Houston Ship Channel, spot gas prices averaged $2.63/MMBtu in February, compared with $4.06/MMBtu in January.

Falling gas prices and a lack of coal capacity may have contributed to gas-fired generation providing almost 42% of ERCOT's electricity in February, compared with less than 23% for coal-fired generation. In January, gas-fired plants provided 38.7% of ERCOT's power, compared with about 28.4% for coal plants.

Wind and nuclear power also expanded their market shares, to about 21.5% and 13.3%, respectively, up from 19.9% and 12.2%, respectively, in January.

In February 2017, the loads were lighter, with about 821 GWh/d generated, but coal-fired generation's 30% was almost dead even with gas' 30.9%. In February 2017, wind supplied 23.3% of the power, while nuclear plants provided nearly 14.9%.

Last fall, Luminant Energy announced the planned retirement of 4,200 MW of coal-fired capacity, which included the 1,800-MW Monticello plant and the 1,200-MW Sandow plant, in addition to Big Brown. All have now been retired.

--Mark Watson,
--Edited by Valarie Jackson,