ERCOT pushes panic button for Texans with energy conservation alert

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is the state’s energy grid manager. Monday afternoon ERCOT began issuing alerts to conserve energy due to an increase in power plant outages and a higher than expected level of energy demand. We are being told that energy supplies are tight. It’s only June.

Summer doesn’t officially start until Sunday, June 20 on the calendar. The season is in full force in Texas. The days of 90+ degree temperatures are here. The only difference between this season’s temperatures and that of past summers is that the stifling heat seems to have arrived a little earlier than normal. For example, the forecasted high temperature today in Houston is 96 degrees with that nebulous measurement of a “feels like” temperature at 105 degrees. Demand for electricity is up.

ERCOT is struggling to keep up with demand. The grid manager says that the power plant outages are “unexpected”. That is the alarming part of the power alerts. Even worse, ERCOT cannot (or won’t) give customers reasons for the power plant outages.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said in a statement Monday that a significant number of unexpected power plant outages, combined with expected record use of electricity due to hot weather, has resulted in tight grid conditions. Approximately 12,000 megawatts of generation were offline Monday, or enough to power 2.4 million homes on a hot summer day.

ERCOT officials said the power plant outages were unexpected — and could not provide details as to what could be causing them.

“I don’t have any potential reasons [for the plant outages] that I can share at this time,” said Warren Lasher, ERCOT senior director of systems planning, during a Monday call with media. “It is not consistent with fleet performance that we have seen over the last few summers.”

The number of plants that were forced offline today is “very concerning” Lasher said.

“We operate the grid with the resources that we have available,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of the generators to make sure their plants are available when demand is high.”

Texas experienced a horrendous time in February due to a winter storm that brought ice, snow, and very cold temperatures. ERCOT experienced a statewide massive fail, with most Texans without power for about a week, some for longer. After that experience, the state legislature, which happened to be in session, promised to do whatever was needed to fix the energy grid system. Top leadership at ERCOT resigned, or were fired, and new people are in place. A top priority for ERCOT is that blackouts do not become necessary to prevent energy shortages. For now, ERCOT says that blackouts will likely not be necessary. Some changes like plant upgrades to handle extreme temperatures will take years to complete. The grid has to be weatherized.

The Texas legislature changed ERCOT’s governing board to replace “industry insiders” with appointees selected by a committee comprising selections by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dade Phelan (all Republicans).

The first precaution against the necessity for blackouts is energy conservation – ask the public to cut back on electricity usage. Monday the energy alert system went into action. Power conservation is expected to be necessary through Friday. The peak demand record is expected to be broken this week.

Monday’s peak load forecast may exceed 73,000 megawatts. The peak demand record for June is 69,123 megawatts, set June 27, 2018.

“We will be conducting a thorough analysis with generation owners to determine why so many units are out of service,” Woody Rickerson, ERCOT vice president of grid planning and operations, said in a Monday release. “This is unusual for this early in the summer season.”

About 11,000 megawatts of the state’s roughly 80,000 megawatts of power capacity are offline for maintenance, ERCOT said.

Texans are being asked to set thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, turn off lights and pool pumps, avoid using large appliances like electric ovens, and washers and dryers, and unplug as many appliances as possible. That’s right – don’t use the oven or do laundry this week, that’s how the Texas power grid is doing. Unbelievable.

After the winter freeze catastrophe, Texans hit the panic button when the alerts began on Monday. None of us want to go back to doing without electricity as we did in February. At that time it wasn’t just an absence of heat, it was also a lack of internet service, which many of us rely on for work. All we could do was concentrate on trying to stay warm enough to survive. That sounds dramatic but it’s the truth.

Governor Abbott signed two bills last week that deal with ERCOT. Senate Bill 2 changes the structure of the board, moving away from energy insiders taking the helm. This is meant to end conflicts of interest and create an independent board. Senate Bill 3 requires power generators to update their infrastructure to be able to handle extreme temperatures. And it created a statewide power outage alert system.

The alert system is a three-tiered system. “Conditions are considered “normal” when reserves remain greater than 3,000 megawatts. Anything below or near that triggers a series of notices, advisories, and alerts, including a conservation alert.”

Level one emergency alerts (EEA1) are triggered when reserves fall below 2,300 MW and are not expected to recover within 30 minutes. The grid operator considers a conservation alert and sends out emergency notifications along with public news releases.

Level two emergency alerts (EEA2) are triggered when reserves fall below 1,750 MW and are not expected to recover within 30 minutes. The grid operator sends a conservation alert and sends out emergency notifications along with public news releases.

Level three emergency alerts (EEA3) are triggered when reserves fall below 1,375 MW and are not expected to recover within 30 minutes. The grid operator might implement controlled rotating outages at this point. It will send out the same alerts as before, plus activate a call center as needed.

Texans don’t hold ERCOT in high esteem at this point. This kind of start to the summer months does not inspire confidence in its ability to supply power to our homes now. We are also in hurricane season which presents its own challenges. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Texas is expected to have a hotter and drier summer than normal this year.

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