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Electricity Monthly Update

With Data for February 2021 Release Date: April 26, 2021 Next Release Date: May 25, 2021

Regional Wholesale Markets: February 2021

The United States has many regional wholesale electricity markets. Below we look at monthly and annual ranges of on-peak, daily wholesale prices at selected pricing locations and daily peak demand for selected electricity systems in the Nation. The range of daily prices and demand data is shown for the report month and for the year ending with the report month.

Prices and demand are shown for six Regional Transmission Operator (RTO) markets: ISO New England (ISO-NE), New York ISO (NYISO), PJM Interconnection (PJM), Midwest ISO (MISO), Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), and two locations in the California ISO (CAISO). Also shown are wholesale prices at trading hubs in Louisiana (into Entergy), Southwest (Palo Verde) and Northwest (Mid-Columbia). In addition to the RTO systems, peak demand is also shown for the Southern Company, Progress Florida, and the Bonneville Power Authority (BPA). Refer to the map tabs for the locations of the electricity and natural gas pricing hubs and the electric systems for which peak demand ranges are shown.

In the second tab immediately below, we show monthly and annual ranges of on-peak, daily wholesale natural gas prices at selected pricing locations in the United States. The range of daily natural gas prices is shown for the same month and year as the electricity price range chart. Wholesale electricity prices are closely tied to wholesale natural gas prices in all but the center of the country. Therefore, one can often explain current wholesale electricity prices by looking at what is happening with natural gas prices.

Wholesale prices

The wholesale electricity and natural gas markets experienced dramatic price swings during the month of February. Electricity prices in Texas (ERCOT) surged to nearly $8,800/MWh on February 17 as a historic cold weather event hit the area. Demand for electricity and natural gas could not be met by energy supply as natural gas producers and electric power generators struggled against the cold, leading to widespread power outages and skyrocketing prices. Lasting several days, wholesale electricity prices jumped in ERCOT from $56/MWh on February 11 to $167/MWh on February 12, $1,478/MWh on February 16 (the next trading day), $8,787/MWh on February 17, $8,280/MWh on February 18, and to $4,404/MWh on February 19. Over the next weekend, enough supply came back online to send prices back to a more normal $52/MWh on the next trading day of February 22. Very high electricity prices were also recorded in New England (ISONE) at $118/MWh, New York City (NYISO) at $127/MWh, in the Mid-Atlantic (PJM) at $160/MWh, the Midwest (MISO) at $355/MWh, Louisiana (into Entergy) at $540/MWh, Northern California (CAISO) at $361/MWh, and in the Northwest (Mid-C) at $187/MWh. Every one of these high prices represent new 12-month highs at those locations.

Similarly in wholesale natural gas markets, the mid-February weather event led to limited supplies and skyrocketing prices. Cold temperatures negatively affected electricity production at many generators using different fuel sources and caused well freeze-offs at natural gas wells. All selected hubs recorded new 12-month high prices as a result. New England (Algonquin) and New York City (Transco Z6 NY) prices peaked at $14/MMBtu and $15/MMBtu, respectively, in what are typically the highest priced markets during the winter months. Chicago Citygates prices spiked much higher, however, peaking at $146/MMBtu on February 16. Ultimately, even that extraordinarily high price fell far short of prices in Texas, which reached $350/MMBtu on February 17 in the midst of the cold-weather energy crisis. Nationally, 338 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of natural gas was withdrawn from underground storage facilities for the week ending February 19, 2021, the second-largest weekly withdrawal on record and nearly three times the average withdrawal for mid-February.

Electricity system daily peak demand

Electricity system daily peak demand was a rollercoaster ride in Texas on the ERCOT system during February. From February 1-8, daily peak demand ranged from 41.4 GW to 47.8 GW as temperatures remained more or less in the normal range for the area during that time of year. Temperatures then plummeted as the historic cold-weather system blanketed the state, with high temperatures in Dallas falling from 68 degrees Fahrenheit on February 8 to 40 degrees on February 9, and all the way to a high of only 14 degrees on February 15. Low temperatures fell to only three degrees in Dallas on February 16. In Austin, temperatures remained below freezing from February 13 to February 18, considerably below average high temperatures around 67 degrees for the area. Many other cold temperature records were set across the state (and adjacent states) in mid-February. This cold weather initially caused electricity demand (and energy demand in general) to rise as homes and businesses increased heating load, with daily peak demand rising to 69.2 MW on February 14. Then electricity generator failures and natural gas well freeze-offs limited energy supplies, causing daily peak load in ERCOT to only reach 46.8 GW on February 16, as no additional electricity generation was able to put power on the ERCOT grid. In subsequent days, daily peak load increased as power plants came back online, increasing to 49.3 GW on February 17, 55.4 GW on February 18, and 58.4 GW on February 19.