Category — Energy Companies
“[Free energy] markets tend not only to clear, but to clear faster and at lower prices than anticipated.”
The resignation of Aubrey McClendon as CEO of Chesapeake Energy provides a good case to study in corporate strategic planning. Ignoring his financial side deals, for which he has received a good share of criticism, the wisdom of his primary strategy, the aggressive pursuit of shale resources, is an open question to many. Although he has been hailed as a pioneer and risk taker, clearly those risks have gone bad and should be examined.
Higher Prices: A Bad Bet
The core failing was his decision to bet the firm (essentially) on high natural gas prices. From 1997 to 2005, wellhead prices had increased from $3/Mcf to $8/Mcf (2010$), the highest level historically. This, combined with a neo-Malthusian mentality, convinced him and many others that prices would not be mean-reverting, but remain at levels from two to three times the historical average.
In nearly my entire working career, energy executives have complained that prices for energy were too low for them to successfully invest. At one energy economics conference, the moaning about inadequate prices was so frequent that the award winner for contributions to the profession, Richard Gordon of Pennsylvania State University, reminded the audience that markets tend not only to clear, but to clear faster and at lower prices than anticipated.
In a more practical sense, there is a tendency to ignore the fact that mineral and energy prices are both cyclical and mean-reverting, despite being “finite” and thus “running out.” Numerous market analysts have been criticized for excessive bullishness about prices in the past decade, but many have correctly described the situation as one of cyclical behavior, not of a permanent shift to a high price environment. [Read more →]
February 28, 2013 1 Comment
“[T]here is no companion prerequisite that such renewable programs be cost-effective or deliver reliable power…. This program appears designed for the privileged few to enjoy a subsidized electric energy existence, provides those ‘green bragging rights’ mentioned by a solar installer in this courtroom last September, but little else.”
Last May, Dominion Virginia Power petitioned the Virginia State Corporation Commission to introduce a voluntary ratepayer program to support up to 3 MW from distributed solar installations. Dominion seeks to offer the public an alternative to an existing, net-metering, residential solar panel program. This voluntary test Solar Panel Program would be guaranteed for five years at a “buy all/sell all” $0.15/kWh. It would be limited to an initial maximum scale of 0.2 percent of 2010 peak load.
Solar is an intermittent power source that would require storage to be on a stand-alone basis. The Dominion program offers a solar energy buyback on a firm (non-interrupted) basis, which requires cross subsidization from conventional energies.
The $0.15/kWh price is below what the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates to be the cost of distributed solar, which is north of $0.25/kWh. Multiple tax breaks explain the difference ($0.022/kWh production tax credit; accelerated depreciation, etc.). Solar executive David Bergeron has estimated that the as much as 90 percent of lifecycle solar costs are hidden, due to special government subsidies. [Read more →]
February 27, 2013 4 Comments
‘Let’s Go’ … Game On for Shell in the Arctic (a milestone in the still maturing hydrocarbon energy era)
“I can’t downplay this. It’s obviously very exciting for us…. This is opening up a new chapter in Alaska’s oil and gas history that is literally starting today.”
Profit-seeking, consumer-directed business is proper, necessary, and heroic. Free-market-based energy enterprises (oil, gas, and coal) are quite unlike government-dependent (crony) businesses (ethanol, windpower, and on-grid solar). Ken Lay’s Enron is (was) a leading example of the latter; Koch Industries’ Charles Koch, writing in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, epitomizes the former.
Shell has scaled back its (scarcely profitable) renewable energy investments and is back to its oil and gas roots. Its advertising is no longer about pie-in-the-sky energies and more about here, now energy. LET’S GO! The company found out the hard way that self-styled environmentalists are really anti-industrial and obstructionist when it comes to producing the energy needed by world consumers.
The expense and delay of Shell’s ambitious plans to drill offshore Alaska have been huge. But that chapter is largely over. It is GAME ON for Arctic drilling. LET’S GO!
September 11, 2012 4 Comments
The coalition in support of wind power’s Production Tax Credit (PTC) has always had a bit of a Bootleggers and Baptists flavor: environmentalists making a clean and green argument in favor of wind power and the multinational wind power development corporations funding the political muscle needed to get things done.
The coalition has proven durable even as wind power took a few environmental hits, but now the business side of the coalition is beginning to fray. The PTC will expire at the end of 2012 unless Congress acts to extend it, and some interesting positions are being advertised as the tax-cliff approaches.
For example, the Chicago Tribune reports that Exelon Corp., a large electric power company that owns a significant amount of wind power and is a member of the American Wind Energy Association, is opposing efforts to renew the tax credit (sub. req.).
“The (production tax credit) has been in place since 1992, I believe,” Exelon Chief Executive Christopher Crane said in a conference call with investors and analysts Wednesday. “And I think that’s enough time to jump-start an industry, 20 years.”
The economic logic behind Exelon’s position is clear: ”with nearly half of its profits coming from its nuclear fleet and low-cost wind power cutting into its margins, Exelon is in Washington leading a fight to kill a tax credit the wind industry says is crucial to its survival.”
Note that “low cost wind power” is referring to the low marginal cost of production, not the total cost per MWh of energy produced. Most of Exelon’s generating assets are in markets with energy prices driven toward the marginal cost of production, and additional wind power in these markets tends to push average prices down. [Read more →]
August 15, 2012 5 Comments
“When government undertakes tasks for which it is ill equipped it squanders the authority necessary for carrying out its core responsibilities. Pervasive rent-seeking, bad for our economy and worse for our republic, should be discouraged instead of rewarded. If government becomes integral to securing every advantage and assuaging every grievance, then governance becomes impossible.”
- Richard Voegeli, “Reclaiming Democratic Capitalism,” Claremont Review of Books, Spring 2012, p. 46.
Governments around the world are having buyers’ remorse with their bets that solar and wind could effectively diminish oil, gas, coal, and nuclear. So much cost, so little energy. So much cost, so little reliability, and so much need for backup power.
The story is the same for the U.S. Department of Energy. The Obama administration’s rocky road with green-energy boosterism is no secret. With big names like Solyndra and Solar Trust of America, it’s hard to lose sight of the administration’s funding failures.
But what may come as a surprise is the overall amount of money being thrown away on these green companies that the administration has championed. Of the $10.7 billion in green-energy commitments, detailed below, approximately $3.2 billion is to companies that are in bankruptcy, and another $7.1 billion is committed to teetering firms.
The good news is that private developers are postponing (and probably canceling) projects that even with government subsidies are uneconomic. General Electric Co. just last week halted construction of what would have been the largest solar-panel factory in the U.S. Some 335 workers can now find economic employment.
Here’s the breakdown of the “green” energy carnage to date: [Read more →]
July 9, 2012 8 Comments
Petroleum Development in the Ecuadorian Amazon: Setting the Record Straight (Part III: Did International Oil Firms Despoil Eastern Ecuador’s Environment?)
[Ed. Note: This concludes Douglas Southgate's review of Ecuador’s claims of “reckless environmental damage” against Chevron, and through them international oil companies (IOCs). Part I challenged the facade that Ecuador's passive view of its own resources led to exploitation by Big Oil; Part II examined the economic benefits of fossil-fuel development in the country.
This post refutes the charge that environmental damage is the responsibility of foreign firms alone. Indeed, it is the state company, Petroecuador, that was chiefly responsible for environmental despoliation in the Amazon region. These postings are timely in light of a recent article in The New Yorker,  a new book about the construction of a trans-Andean pipeline,  and other literature in which IOCs’ actions in Ecuador are criticized.
Billions for Government, Nada Environment
Opponents of petroleum development in the Amazonian lowlands (Oriente) of eastern Ecuador maintain that damage to the region’s natural resources has been the result of IOCs’ dominance of the country. But in the first of three postings about the anti-oil campaign, I show that the Ecuadorian government actually exercised considerable power in its dealings with foreign companies. Soon after petroleum was discovered in the Oriente, Ecuadorian authorities obliged IOCs to spend tens of millions of dollars on transportation infrastructure in order to facilitate colonization, in which the firms had no real interest. [Read more →]
February 17, 2012 2 Comments
Petroleum Development in the Ecuadorian Amazon: Setting the Record Straight (Part II: Oil wealth & socioeconomic progress in Ecuador)
[Ed. Note: This series addresses key issues at the heart of Ecuador’s claims of “reckless environmental damage” against Chevron, and, through them, international oil companies (IOCs). Part I challenged the facade that Ecuador's passive view of its own resources led to exploitation by Big Oil. Part III tomorrow addresses the misperception that environmental damage in this small, South American nations is the responsibility of foreign firms alone.]
Oil and gas has been a 40-year economic driver in Ecuador. With the national treasury benefiting from oil and gas revenue, any lack of socioeconomic progress during the last decades cannot be blamed on international oil company (IOC) profit-making there.
Indeed, no serious observer claims that Ecuador has failed to experience development. Criticism has focused instead on waste and misallocation of the large cash bounty that multinational investment created for Ecuador.
Who Got the Money?
Much of the blame for misallocation rests with the uniformed services, which have received a sizable portion of the country’s petrodollars. Military expenditures averaged 45 percent of the national budget from 1972 through 2000, which has enabled the armed forces to acquire a fleet of oil tankers, an airline, and other commercial enterprises. However, oil wealth also has been spent on social services and subsidies for the public at large.
Despite waste, corruption, and misallocation, gross national income (GNI) per capita improved during this period. So did non-economic indicators of human well-being, including the infant mortality rate (IMR) and life expectancy at birth, thanks to better water supplies and public sanitation, wider access to pharmaceuticals, and, most importantly, improved nutrition.
Conditions in 1967
At the time when oil was discovered in the Oriente, mean GNI in Ecuador ($260) was barely half the Latin American and Caribbean average ($478); only in Haiti’s GNI per capita was appreciably lower.  The country’s standing in terms of non-economic measures was a little better. [Read more →]
February 16, 2012 No Comments
Petroleum Development in the Ecuadorian Amazon: Setting the Record Straight (Part I: Was Ecuador ever subservient to foreign oil firms?)
[Ed. Note: In this three-part series, Douglas Southgate, an economist and professor at Ohio State University, addresses key issues at the heart of Ecuador’s claims of “reckless environmental damage” against Chevron, and, through them, international oil companies (IOCs). Part II and Part III will address two other charges: that the small, South American nation has benefited little from energy-resource development, and that environmental damage is the responsibility of foreign firms alone. These postings are timely in light of a recent article in The New Yorker, a new book about the construction of a trans-Andean pipeline, and other literature in which IOCs’ actions in Ecuador are criticized.]
Part I in this series challenges the charge from the Ecuadorian régime’s (and its U.S. backers) that:
(1) Ecuador was an innocent seduced by the siren song of Big Oil, and became a vassal to their interests;
(2) Ecuador’s relationship to its oil potential was merely passive; and
(3) Oil development monies did not benefit Ecuador.
In fact, the country moved aggressively to capture the lion’s share of the benefits created by private investment. Nationalization and taxation left the government with 97.3 percent, or $22.7 billion, of the monetary returns created by the concession originally developed by Texaco and Gulf between 1972 (when production and exports began) and 1992 (when the state oil company gained complete ownership of the concession).
The Legal Setting
Continuing appeals of a February 2011 ruling by a district court in the Amazonian lowlands of eastern Ecuador and charges of fraud leveled against plaintiffs’ counsel  are recent and noteworthy developments in a legal campaign launched nearly two decades ago against Texaco, which along with Gulf Corporation began drilling for petroleum in the region during the 1960s and which has been affiliated since 2001 with Chevron. [Read more →]
February 15, 2012 3 Comments
It is a common refrain in headlines at Joe Romm’s Climate Progress:
- “Koch-Fueled Americans for Prosperity Takes Credit for Bullying GOP Lawmakers Into Climate Denial” (Emilee Piece: December 8, 2011);
- “Koch-Fueled Denial Backfires: Independents, Other Republicans Split With Tea-Party Extremists on Global Warming” (Romm: December 2, 2012); and
- “Koch-Fueled Americans for Prosperity Spends $2.4 Million on Solyndra Attack Ad (VIDEO)” (Stephen Lacey: November 28, 2011).
Smearing and innuendo is hardly fair play. But in this case, Joe Romm has something embarrassing to hide. Just as Koch Industries might be his least favorite company, Enron was his darling company.
Specifically, Romm was not only a cheerleader of Enron (Enron is “a company I greatly respect,” Romm would say). He was also an unpaid consultant and collaborator with the infamously fraudulent division, Enron Energy Services (EES), purveyor of energy efficiency service in (gamed) long-term contracts.
It is timely to reestablish the linkage between Joe Romm and once-mighty Enron Corporation, a company which went bankrupt ten years ago this month. Perhaps this history will help the combustible Romm to deal with the arguments more and funding links less. (Besides, would he like for his critics to bring in the funding link between George Soros and Center for American Progress?)
Some Romm Enron Quotations
“I hope there is something in [my book] Cool Companies Mr. Lay can refer to. I’m sorry Enron isn’t in it, but if you have any good case studies, I would love to use them as I talk to the media and Fortune 500 companies. Feel free to use my personal email.”
- Email communication from Romm to Enron, June 6, 1999. [Read more →]
December 19, 2011 11 Comments
“It’s time to move the debate past the dogmatic view that carbon dioxide is evil and toward a world view that accepts the need for energy that is cheap, abundant and reliable.”
- Robert Bryce, “Five Truths About Climate Change,” Wall Street Journal, October 6, 2011.
“Every [energy] policy objective should be viewed through the lens of affordability.”
- John S. Watson, Chairman and CEO, Chevron Corporation
Remarks at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Washington, D.C., October 19, 2011.
Chevron CEO John Watson delivered a major address last month in Washington, D.C. that reorients energy sustainability from controversial neo-Malthusian notions toward consumer affordability and reliability. As such, it marks an end to the ‘apologetic’ era launched by BP’s John Browne in his 1997 Stanford University speech, which proclaimed that fossil fuels were problematic in relation to anthropogenic climate change. The moral high ground of consumerism also points to market capitalism in place of political capitalism.
Watson’s speech follows verbatim with subtitles added.
This is one of those places in our nation’s capital where serious minds turn to serious matters. The spirit of the Institute is to take the long view, to look past election cycles to the fundamentals of good policy, in this country and beyond. That’s an attitude that serves us well in any place and time, and certainly right now, in this fourth year of low economic growth, high unemployment and many other challenges.
This room is filled with people who spend a lot of time analyzing these problems, and advocating policy prescriptions to deal with them. And few policy issues are more contentious than energy.
There’s a reason for that. When it comes to energy policy today, we’re talking past one another. We all want a secure source that
minimizes adverse environmental impacts. But we’re failing to be clear about what our central priority ought to be among our energy objectives.
Today, I’d like to share what I believe that priority should be. I submit to you that affordable energy is the priority that should underpin all of our actions. Every policy objective should be viewed through the lens of affordability.
To make the case, think back over the last 150 years. We’ve seen the greatest advancements in living standards in recorded history because we have developed abundant, affordable energy. Light, heat and mobility have been made available to billions of people.
Agriculture has been mechanized, freeing populations to spend time developing other industries and toiling less for the very basics of life.
The evolution of energy supply over that time period has been just as stunning. As late as 1910, about a quarter of all U.S. farmland was still devoted to feeding horses used for transportation. Today, we use half as much land for all of our roads and highways, oil pipelines, refineries and wells combined.
Since Edison switched on his first generators in 1882, the average price of a kilowatt hour of electricity has fallen almost without interruption. Markets have driven a diverse portfolio of affordable energy sources that is anchored by oil, natural gas and coal, but also includes nuclear, hydropower and other renewables.
And we’re using our energy more efficiently. It takes 60 percent less energy today to produce a dollar of GDP than it did in 1949.
Affordable energy supports the very foundation of American life. Americans love their mobility, whether for business or pleasure. The population has roughly doubled since 1950, but gasoline consumption has quadrupled, even as gas mileage has improved. And we’re flying more. U.S. airlines use about 80 percent more fuel today than when I was in college, even as they have became more fuel efficient. [Read more →]
November 25, 2011 2 Comments