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The increase in retail rates come as companies prepare for surging prices in the wholesale electricity markets where they buy their power. Forecasts of higher than normal temperatures and record power demand are coinciding with the shutdown of at least three coal-fired plants, leading to concerns that temporary shortages on the hottest summer days could send wholesale prices, which typically average less than $50 per megawatt hour, spiking to $3,000 per megawatt hour or higher. (A megawatt hour is 1,000 kilowatt hours.)
The threat of price spikes have been long in the making, the result of changing economics of power production. The shale drilling boom produced record amounts of natural gas, which pushed prices to all-time lows and made gas-fired plants cheaper to operate than coal. Renewable energy such as wind is also producing abundant amounts of electricity at a lower cost than coal.