Selected category: Gas to Clean

Data shows two companies stand alone in their New England pipeline practices

This blog post was co-authored with Levi Marks and Matthew Zaragoza-Watkins

Earlier this month we—a  team of economists at EDF, UC Santa Barbara, University of Wyoming and Vanderbilt University—released  a new study on the natural gas pipeline markets in New England which revealed a distinctive pattern showing that local gas utilities owned by two companies—Eversource and Avangrid—routinely ordered large deliveries, then sharply reduced those orders at the last minute. This “down-scheduling” consistently came too late for anyone else to buy that capacity, thus limiting available gas supply in the wholesale market.

One question people ask: Were these two companies acting any differently from other firms, and how can you tell?

We approached this question as we would any research project by thoroughly investigating the data. Over 18 months, we analyzed scheduled gas flows for all 117 delivery points (nodes) on the Algonquin pipeline for every hour of every day in a three-year study period from August 1, 2013 to July 31, 2016, which we downloaded from the pipeline’s public reporting web site. In total, we looked at approximately eight million data points generated from the scheduling patterns of 18 local gas utilities owned by 11 parent companies.

What we found in those public data was clear and irrefutable. Local distribution companies owned by two of those parent companies—and only utilities belonging to those parents—consistently behaved differently than all the others. We don’t know why, but there’s no question that it occurred. The pattern is clear when you visualize the data. Read More »

Also posted in General, Natural Gas| Comments are closed

Dysfunctional gas market cost New England electric customers $3.6 billion

This blog post was co-authored with Levi MarksCharles Mason and Matthew Zaragoza-Watkins

New England natural gas and electricity prices have undergone dramatic spikes in recent years, spurring talk about the need for a costly new pipeline to meet the region’s needs as demand for gas seemed ready to overtake suppliers’ available capacity to deliver it. For example, during the polar vortex of 2013-14, the gas price at New England’s main gas trading hub regularly exceeded $20/MMBtu (million British Thermal Units, the measure commonly used in the gas industry) and reached a record high of $78/MMBtu on January 22, 2014, compared to the annual average of $5.50/MMBtu.

In an efficient market, we would indeed expect prices to be high during events like the polar vortex. We would also expect pipelines delivering gas to regions like the Boston area – in this case the Algonquin Gas Transmission (AGT) pipeline – to be fully utilized. But this is not what we observed when we analyzed the scheduling patterns on the AGT pipeline from 2013 to 2016.

What 8 million data points told us about artificial shortages

Our research group spent 18 months looking at eight million data points covering the three-year period from mid-2013 to mid-2016. We discovered that during this period, a handful of New England gas utilities owned by two large energy companies routinely scheduled large deliveries, then cancelled orders at the last minute. These scheduling practices created an artificial shortage when in fact there was far more pipeline capacity on the system than it appeared. Read More »

Also posted in Natural Gas| Comments are closed

Looking beyond pipelines to address New England’s electricity needs

Our dramatic seasonal temperature fluctuations here in New England create a unique energy challenge. Most days of the year (i.e. spring, summer, and fall), we have enough pipeline capacity, or space, to meet electricity and heating demand. However, approximately 40 days out of the year natural gas pipeline capacity becomes scarce, and in certain hours, unavailable; and the system relies on storage to maintain sufficient gas supply and delivery to homes, businesses, and electric power plants.

Many people look at the region’s pipeline constraints and assume that the only solution is to build more pipelines. This is a logical reaction, but it overlooks an opportunity to explore multiple solutions in a more economical and holistic way.  Rather than only looking at pipeline solutions, why not broaden the solution conversation by calling forth market competition?

The grid needs to foster participation by all resources

All resources can help ensure reliability during those key hours when pipelines are constrained. By allowing resources, such as batteries, pumped storage, demand response, and LNG, to compete, market forces can be used to fill in gaps, reward resources that are flexible and available to meet peak demand, and ultimately signal to investors when and where right-sized investments are needed. Read More »

Also posted in Natural Gas| Comments are closed

Stopping the self-deal: Preventing pipeline investors from offloading risk on ratepayers

A recent report published by Oil Change International highlights the failure of regulators to protect ratepayers against utility affiliate-backed contracts for new pipeline capacity -in other words, when a regulated utility acts as both the developer and customer for a new pipeline.  It’s a widespread and growing issue. Case in point: Con Ed’s investment in the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline in West Virginia and Virginia, hundreds of miles from Con Ed’s New York service territory.

Con Ed claims that signing up for transportation service on the pipeline will result in cost savings for customers. But the day Con Ed signed up as a pipeline customer, the company also formed a new “midstream” entity to invest in the pipeline. The new unregulated entity shares the same corporate parent as the regulated utility, but operates under significantly different rules and legal obligations. This transactional structure means that Con Ed’s ratepayers would be  on the hook for paying for the project, while Con Ed’s midstream arm will enjoy a return in excess of risk. From the company standpoint, it’s heads-I-win, tails-you-lose. Read More »

Also posted in General, Natural Gas| Comments are closed

Shell becomes latest oil and gas company to test smart methane sensors

This week, the oil and gas giant Shell took a positive step toward addressing methane emissions. The company announced a new technology trial at a wellsite in Alberta, Canada, where it is piloting a specially designed laser to continuously monitor emissions of methane, a powerful pollutant known to leak from oil and gas equipment.

The move by Shell is a glimpse into the future and demonstrates growing market interest in smart, sensor-based methane detection technology. Shell’s project joins a similar field test already underway in Texas, operated by the Norwegian producer Statoil, and a California utility pilot run by Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Each of these deployments is promising, but the ultimate test will be broad-scale adoption of innovations that generate actual methane reductions. Read More »

Also posted in Methane, Natural Gas| Tagged | Comments are closed

Shell Canada launches methane technology pilot, and its timing is perfect.

This week, oil and gas giant Shell announced the launch of a technology pilot at one of its shale gas facilities in Canada that will continuously monitor methane levels and provide real-time leak detection to facility operators. This is a big deal and shows what can happen when companies, environmental groups and innovators work together to find solutions.

The pilot is a product of the Methane Detectors Challenge (MDC), a partnership involving EDF, eight oil and gas operators, technology developers and other experts that aims to spur next-generation solutions that can help the oil and gas industry find methane leaks more efficiently and effectively.

Shell is not alone. Other MDC participants include Statoil, which launched a pilot in Texas early this year, and Pacific Gas & Electric Company, which began a pilot in California in 2016. But the Shell project at Rocky Mountain House is the first MDC technology to be deployed in Canada, where the federal and key provincial governments are both developing regulations that will reduce oil and gas methane emissions.

The timing of this test in Alberta couldn’t be better. Read More »

Also posted in Methane, Natural Gas| Tagged , , | Comments are closed
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