Selected category: Gas to Clean

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 »

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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 »

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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 »

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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 »

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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 »

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It’s time to harmonize New York’s natural gas and climate policies

New York is a national leader on energy and climate. The state’s Clean Energy Standard provides that half its electricity will come from renewables by 2030. The state has also committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 2005 levels by 2050. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s new plan to reduce methane pollution directs state agencies to develop policies to inventory emissions and identify strategies to reduce them.

These are ambitious goals that require proactive, flexible policies from New York regulators. However, embedded within New York Public Service Commission precedent and policies are preferences for utility decisions weighted in favor of natural gas utilization and infrastructure. These policies risk locking in that infrastructure at the expense of alternatives.

Dusting off old policies

One such policy, in place since 1989, incentivizes utilities that expand gas service into new areas by increasing the rate of shareholder return they’re allowed to earn on these investments. Others put the finger on the scale for increased utility investment in natural gas pipelines and delivery infrastructure. Read More »

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