Possible extension to the gas caps

Image of Gas Stove

It is likely today that the Climate change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen will announce an extension to the $12/GJ cap on wholesale gas. Currently the gas caps will expire at the end of the year. Following the release of the draft mandatory code of conduct the market will have several weeks of consultation.

Energy producers are likely to be concerned over an extension or possibly permanent changes to the wholesale gas. Energy producers will also be concerned that changes will impact the pricing of long-term deals as it is likely a reasonable pricing clause will be included.

Under the reasonable price provision, gas companies could only charge a price based on the cost of production plus a reasonable margin. The reasonable price does not consider the capital invested during exploration and development of projects. Gas buyers will be able to challenge the price of contracts via a formal dispute process. The dispute process is designed to determine what the ‘reasonable’ price should be.

While the extension to the cap mechanism will provide certainty for energy users, energy producers remain in a holding pattern.

Gas producers are not finalising new gas supply contracts for 2024 until the government confirms what the impact of the code will have on pricing.

The federal government have also set the expectation that the federal budget will include a Petroleum Rent Tax. The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) have shared with its members concerns that changes to the taxing of gas producers will add $100B of tax receipts to the government.

To appease the gas production sector, it is expected the new code will allow for exemptions. New projects that add supply for domestic use may qualify for exemptions from any specific pricing provision.

APPEA said the code “must recognise the importance of gas in a cleaner energy future, and the need to ensure settings which enable investment in new supply to avoid forecast shortfalls and put downward pressure on prices”.

Gas industry developers continues to warn the broader industry that deterring investment in new gas supply will harm the supply to manufacturers and reduce the secure of supplies of electricity across the NEM.

Beach Energy’s chief executive has said that getting the terms of the code wrong could imperil Australia’s transition to low-carbon energy given the role gas plays to support renewable energy.

At the end of the day changes to the industry need to benefit producers, end users and ensure gas and electricity security is achieved. While international cost pressures are impacting the gas and electricity industry. The continued development of gas resources are required to provide gas the opportunity to be the transitional fuel as Australia strives to its Net zero emission targets.

Winter is coming

Now I am a major Game of Thrones fan, but I never thought moving to Australia that I would turn into Ned Stark and constantly worry about a Northern Hemisphere Winter. But, as we are hurtling towards those cooler months in t’north and following the tumultuous Q2 and start of Q3 in the NEM, I am preaching that the Northern ‘Winter is Coming’ and even down here in Australia we must be ready.

As background Northern Europe, UK, France, Belgium, Germany etc., rely on feeds of Gas from Norway and Russia. Gas is significant in Europe as a 1-degree shift in temperature can result in around 5% of domestic demand increase, or decrease, due to most homes being heated via Gas-Central heating. With a third La Niña about to be called in the Southern hemisphere and La Niña, correlated with colder winters in Europe, with increased snowfall, as it shifts the jet stream north to the pole and increases storms across Northern Europe, this can only mean an increase this heating demand.

This confluence of events would usually increase my concern for a tight supply in the European market, but this year is different. Ignoring for now the Russian flows, we will circle back to that later, Norway’s Energy Minister has already raised the possibility that they may restrict electricity exports with possible restrictions to Gas flows as well. With much of their electricity coming from hydro, and after an un-seasonably warm summer period, Norway has stated the priority will be to refill the reservoirs over winter, rather than secure the energy supply of their European neighbours. With this flow being restricted into Northern Europe, coupled with a diminishing fleet of coal and nuclear options, gas will be the favoured source of domestic supply for Northern Europe. Although there are other interconnectors, it is anticipated these will either be significantly under utilised or such a price differential within a domestic market will occur to ensure flows to a single market will ensue. This could be facilitated by pushing those areas (countries) price up to exorbitant amounts to ensure flow across the interconnector and shore up domestic supply. With flows of course favouring higher priced regions.

Now let’s put Russia into the mix. Russia announced this week that the Nord-Stream 1 pipeline, a crucial pipeline for gas flow into Europe, required maintenance from the 31st August. This happens to coincide with European markets trying to firm up winter supply by filling storage and Russia increasing aggression to the Ukraine, but I am sure that was a coincidence.

The 3-day maintenance will have a return to service for the 2nd September. But how likely is this to return? Well, if the last outage is anything to go by, where only 40% of the required flow reached Europe and the delivery of the required turbine was strangely delayed, the price increase was significant and totally in Russian control. Now with this latest outage and flows expected to be around 5% of the obligations agreed with the EU, the cynic in me wondered if Putin is trying to offset the sanctions place on Russia by pushing the cost of Gas to exorbitant amounts. If he can sell his 5% for the same as the revenue from the already inflated 40% and free the remaining gas for sale to more amiable neighbours, he is in a win-win situation.

The real fear is that this flow remains low for the whole of Europe’s winter, which would not only put massive strain on the cost of generation but also lead to many retailers simply not able to meet their obligations and go under. There is also a risk of lack of supply and therefore blackouts as well as increasing costs on an already strained economic environment.

To mitigate this, European generators are throwing out their climate targets with the baby and the bath water in favour of supply and are scrambling to shore up gas supply and return coal-fired power stations from cold storage. The Mehrun Coal-Fired Power plant in Saxony Germany came back online at the start of August, Uniper have just announced they are re-commissioning the Heyden plant in North Rhine-Westphalia and in the UK, the government has made moves to re-open the rough gas storage facility, 25% of it initially, ignoring the safety concerns which led to its original closure. But this will not be enough, and this is where Australia needs to brace itself for a secondary wave of impacts.

LNG and coal exports into Europe will increase, as the price differential will be significant. The ensuing impact through the JKM on the domestic gas market, and coal export price will affect the replenishment of the longer-term running costs of our own generators.

Although significant volume should be pre-hedged, these prices will start feeding through, nothing is stopping the trading opportunity cost being passed through by generators. They will argue the replenishment of the stockpile will need to factor these spot and forwards prices, interesting that doesn’t flow through in a bear’s market though.  What does that mean for our summer, well it means the high prices aren’t going anywhere fast. The shortage of supply in the NEM may be diminished, with most, if not all units now returned from overhaul, yet the price is continuing to take advantage of, and reflect the international fundamentals rather than the real long run average cost of the asset.

With the Capacity Mechanism being put on ice and strengthening Safeguard Mechanisms already announced by the Labor Government, coupled with favourable international fundamental conditions providing political cover for generators, could this be the last hurrah for coal and gas generators to eek the last value from these assets?

Either way be under no illusions, with the Northern winter hurtling towards us, European prices already building in shortfalls in supply and no end to the Ukraine conflict in sight, the Vega sensitivity is going off the chart and is not going to be subsiding anytime soon. As such Australia, and especially its energy markets need to brace, for the fallout.

To circle back to Game of Thrones, Ramsay Bolton stated, “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention” for ‘winter is coming’ and we must be prepared.

High electricity prices – What’s really driving them?

Written by Alex Driscoll, Senior Manager – Markets, Trading, and Advisory

In recent weeks we have seen a rapid increase in the cost of electricity both in Queensland (“QLD”) and New South Wales (“NSW”).

The chart shows how spot prices (light blue line) and forward prices in QLD have increased considerably since mid-2021. Most notably, we’ve seen frightening increases since mid May 2022.

The question is, what is really driving these unprecedented high prices?

Underlying fuel costs are playing their role, as we’ve seen significant increases in the cost of gas and coal resulting from the Ukraine crisis. Recent weather conditions on the east coast of Australia have also adversely impacted coal deliveries.

Analysis of the supply / demand balance and the bidding behaviour of participants is also in focus. Whilst underlying fuel prices have had a part to play, trading behaviour appears to be playing a leading role in the most recent electricity price increases. At a high level, the structure of the bid stack is a key driver to volatility occurring in QLD and NSW over the past few weeks.

Having analysed the market Edge2020 have found that small changes in the supply / demand balance coupled with strategic bidding behaviour has had a significant impact on spot prices.  Edge2020’s analysis shows that as solar generation diminishes the market power and influence on the spot price shifts from intermittent generation such as solar, to thermal generators such as gas-fired and coal fired generation.  With surplus availability of generation across the states, high demand or scarcity of supply are not the key drivers for the higher prices.

Both QLD and NSW bid stacks reflect the recent strategic bidding of generators in these regions. The bid stacks show how peaking plant are dispatching units at elevated prices, well above levels supported by inflated gas prices. Bid stacks also indicate that coal fired generation is not operating at full capacity. In the absence of news to the contrary, we can assume that output has been restricted for commercial reasons rather than technical limitations. Noting that no re-bids with technical limitations were published during the period analysed.

As spot market volatility has increased, as to have prices across the forward market, with uncertainty and risk having been priced in significantly. Views on future fundamentals remain broad, resulting in differing strategies between forward traders. Whilst spot traders successfully maintain unprecedented volatility in spot prices however, it’s difficult for forward traders to sell into this market. Once the opportunity presents to do so, we could see significant spreads and chunky declines in forward pricing.