In a gas market where every piece of natural gas demand matters, the good news is U.S. L48 power burn is up summer-to-date (as measured April 1 to August 6) 2018 vs. 2017 by 3.0 Bcf/d at 21.9 Bcf/d. And as shown below, new natural gas plants (as measured by new meters to power plants since June 2014) are contributing an incremental 1.1 Bcf/d summer-to-date 2018 vs 2017 and averaging over 4.0 Bcf/d of burn this summer. In the Energy Market Commentary, BTU looked at power burn earlier this year and questioned the impact of new, low-heat-rate combined-cycle plants creating gas-on-gas competition thereby lowering burn from older, higher-heat rate gas plants. Now for the bad news, in Appalachia, where new gas plant burn is the highest, Appalachian gas-on-gas competition between new gas plants and existing gas power plants is resulting in lower burns at existing gas power plants 2018 summer-to-date.
In the above slide, for summer-to-date 2018, 73% of total new gas plant burn is in Appalachia, the Atlantic Seaboard, and the Southeast. We will focus on these three regions, paying particular attention to Appalachia. Of course, in Appalachia, thanks to activity in the Marcellus shale, many new combined-cycle power plants have either recently started service or will soon go into service.
New gas plant burn growth is the driver for overall higher levels of power burn across the board in Appalachia, the Atlantic Seaboard, and the Southeast. As a result, looking at EIA 923 data through May 2018, Appalachia generation is up 2018 YTD vs 2017 YTD on the backs of higher gas generation, but declining coal generation (a trend we highlighted in the Energy Market Commentary on power burn in March 2018). On the coal side, helping this trend is the combination of lower coal plant utilizations and/or outright coal plant retirements.
To wrap up with Appalachian gas-on-gas competition, as shown below, existing gas power plant burn is down summer-to-date in 2017 and 2018 when compared to 2015 and 2016. When looking at Pittsburgh temperatures summer-to-date, summer 2015 and 2017 were slightly hotter than 2016 and 2018. When looking at price, logically as Dominion South outright pricing summer-to-date has strengthened in 2017 and 2018, lower burn levels have been observed at existing plants that presumably have higher heat rates and struggle to compete against the newest, latest and greatest combined-cycle technology.
The question remains, with more combined cycle plants starting service in remainder of 2018 and 2019, and if coal generation stops declining, will gas-on-gas competition heat up even more? To follow regional power burn analysis, request more information about BTU Analytics’ Henry Hub Outlook.