Weather drives weak power sales; industrial near pre-recession

Power sales in the opening quarter of the year fell as relatively mild winter weather prevailed throughout much of the country

Power sales in the opening quarter of the year fell as relatively mild winter weather prevailed throughout much of the country. The drop of nearly three and a half percent continued a trend of weak sales performance seen in the utility space over the past several quarters, according to SNL Energy data.

SNL Energy's analysis showed a pronounced decrease in total retail power sales, to 341.7 million MWh in the first quarter, down from 354 million MWh in the same quarter of 2011, for a sample of 37 utility holding companies.

This trend was found across the nation, where nearly every state experienced unseasonably warmer weather in the first quarter. Oregon and Washington were the only states to have HDDs above the "norm" for the quarter.

The impacts of the mild weather were also felt by commercial sales, where volumes dropped by nearly two percent year over year in the first quarter. This represents the third consecutive quarter of year-over-year drops in commercial volumes.

Some good news found in sales to industrial customers, rose nearly three percent in the first quarter compared to the same quarter in 2011. Shipments of durable goods in the first quarter of 2012 were roughly $612.3 billion, nine percent higher than in the same quarter of 2011.

Census data point toward significant recovery in the manufacturing sector, with both shipments and new orders of durable goods approaching 2007 levels. Both shipments and new orders of durable goods in the first quarter were less than 1 percentage point below levels seen in the first quarter of 2007.

Among the 45 utility holding companies reporting residential power sales data, two saw an increase in residential sales compared to the same quarter of 2011.

The majority of companies saw a decline in commercial volumes in the first quarter compared to the prior year. In total, six of 38 companies reporting data saw year-over-year rises in commercial volumes while 31 companies saw a decline. One company saw no change.

Industrial sales, which were the hardest hit by the economic downturn, have turned around significantly for many companies. Twenty five of 38 companies reporting data recorded a year-over-year increase in industrial electric sales volumes in the first quarter

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