US Industries Are Buckling Under Pressure of Surging Electricity Costs

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by Mish Shedlock, Mish Talk:

Industrial power costs are up 24 percent from a year ago according to Energy Information Agency (EIA) data. That was as of May, and the prognosis is getting worse.

Rising energy bills have forced companies to scale back industrial operations, threatening a greater drag on the economy.

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As of May, electrical energy costs are up 24.4 percent from a year ago. Producer Price Index (PPI) data suggests things are getting worse.

Please consider US Industrial Complex Is Starting to Buckle From High Power Costs

Europe’s fertilizer plants, steel mills, and chemical manufacturers were the first to succumb. Massive paper mills, soybean processors, and electronics factories in Asia went dark. Now soaring natural gas and electricity prices are starting to hit the US industrial complex.

On June 22, 600 workers at the second-largest aluminum mill in America, accounting for 20% of US supply, learned they were losing their jobs because the plant can’t afford an electricity tab that’s tripled in a matter of months. Century Aluminum Co. says it’ll idle the Hawesville, Kentucky, mill for as long as a year, taking out the biggest of its three US sites. A shutdown like this can take a month as workers carefully swirl the molten metal into storage so it doesn’t solidify in pipes and vessels and turn the entire facility into a useless brick. Restarting takes another six to nine months. For this reason, owners don’t halt operations unless they’ve exhausted all other options.

At least two steel mills have begun suspending some operations to cut energy costs, according to one industry executive, who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public. In May, a group of factories across the US Midwest warned federal energy regulators that some were on the verge of closing for the summer or longer because of what they described as “unjust and unreasonable” electricity costs. They asked to be wholly absolved of some power fees—a request that, if granted, would be unprecedented.

Michael Harris, whose firm Unified Energy Services LLC buys fuel for industrial clients, says costs have risen so high that some are having to put millions of dollars of credit on the line to secure power and gas contracts. “That can be devastating for a corporation,’’ he says. “I don’t see any scenario, absent explosions at US LNG facilities’’ that trap supplies at home, in which gas prices are headed lower in the long term.

EIA Average Electricity Cost Cents

EIA cost data chart by Mish

EIA cost data chart by Mish

EIA Cost Data January 2021 vs May 2022

  • Residential: 12.69 to 14.92
  • Commercial: 10.31 to 12.14
  • Industrial: 6.39 to 8.35
  • Transportation: 9.61 to 10.79
  • All: 10.36 to 12.09

Those prices are through May 2022. Much electrical energy comes from natural gas.

US Natural Gas Futures 

US Natural Gas Futures courtesy of Trading Economics

US Natural Gas Futures courtesy of Trading Economics

US gas prices fluctuated wildly in June and July. I suspect the average price is 7.33 or so for both months. Things are decidedly worse in Europe.

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