U.S. bakes in heat but Fitch doesn’t see Uri-level utility credit risk

A heat wave blasting Texas and other states is not shaping up to be a hot-weather version of 2021’s Winter Storm Uri and its days-long blackouts, according to Fitch Ratings.

Summer capacity constraints and rolling blackouts, should they happen, “are not viewed as a near-term risk to U.S. public power and electric cooperative credit quality,” the rating agency said in a report.

“Fitch’s rated portfolio of public power issuers typically own or contract for sufficient electric generation during the summer months to match or exceed their expected load demand, providing a financial hedge against market scarcity and volatile energy prices,” the report said.

Fitch Ratings says it is not viewing triple-digit temperatures in Texas as a weather-related credit event for public power utilities.

Bloomberg News

Kathy Masterson, a Fitch analyst, said on Monday that Fitch was making the distinction that this summer’s hot weather was not seen as a credit event or developing into a credit event like the 2021 storm, which resulted in downgrades for about a third of its portfolio of rated public utilities in Texas amid skyrocketing costs.

Texas, which operates its own unregulated electric grid, suffered the largest problems from the February 2021 storm, which contributed to at least 210 deaths in the state. Fuel prices spiked and days-long power outages spanned most of the state.

More than 26 million Texas customers, or nearly 90% of the state’s population, depend on the Electric Reliability Council of Texas for electricity distribution.

Masterson pointed out ERCOT made two appeals for energy conservation last week with temperatures in the triple digits and has not invoked any of its three levels of energy emergency, which could lead to rotating power outages.

In the report, Fitch said that if temporary blackouts occur, they will likely last for a few hours and would not impact long-term credit quality.

Electricity market officials, including from ERCOT, the California Independent System Operator, and the Midwest Independent System Operator, warned about capacity shortages this summer that could lead to temporary controlled outages, or rolling blackouts, according to the report.

Fitch cautioned that recurring power outages could erode customer tolerance for rate increases public power utilities may be forced to seek due to general economic inflationary pressures.

“To the extent utilities cannot pass through needed rate increases, utility financial profiles would likely weaken and could put pressure on credit quality over the longer term,” the report said.

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