Texas power plants urged to stay online as temperatures, electricity demand soar this weekend

Texas’ electric grid operator is requesting power plants postpone scheduled maintenance to ensure they’re online to meet surging demand during an exceptionally warm weekend.

By Joseph Leahy, The Texas Newsroom; radio interview produced by Jill Ament, Texas StandardMay 6, 2022 1:30 pm, , ,

Texas’ power grid operator is preparing for statewide electricity demand to surge to near-record levels this weekend as unseasonably warm weather spreads across the region.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas this week requested some power plant operators postpone any planned outages for maintenance and end outages already in progress to ensure they are online to meet demand as Texans crank up air conditioners to keep cool.

ERCOT officials “haven’t said a lot publicly, and I think that’s important to say,” KUT’s Matt Largey told Texas Standard. “But what they have said – in sort of their publicly released kind of market information that they put out about the electric grid – is that they do expect tight grid conditions.

“[Power plants are] between the winter season and the summer season. This is a time when a lot of plants do maintenance because demand is typically lower, and so they can be offline for a couple of weeks or a couple of days here and there to do some maintenance on their plants so that they’re ready to go for the summertime. And so what ERCOT has said is basically ‘We need to call some of you guys back up.’ ”

ERCOT, which manages about 90% of the state’s power load, said in a statement that it is not planning to ask consumers to conserve energy this weekend as it predicts there will be enough capacity.

As of Wednesday, the grid’s electricity load was forecast to peak just below 70 gigawatts on both Sunday and Monday as daytime high temperatures were expected to reach the 90s in the Austin, Dallas and Houston areas and triple digits in cities such as San Antonio, Laredo and Midland.

According to Doug Lewin, who heads the energy consultant group Stoic Energy, demand for electricity this weekend is likely to surpass the grid’s previous high for May of roughly 67 gigawatts set in 2018. The all-time high for demand in summer is 74.8 gigawatts.

Lewin said ERCOT recognized a surge in demand due to the hot weather this weekend could overwhelm the grid’s capacity, and possibly lead to blackouts.

“The entire thermal fleet – and thermal means coal, gas, and nuclear – is about 66 gigawatts,” said Lewin. “As of early this week, a little more than 20 gigawatts was offline. So right about 30% were offline for maintenance,” he said.

ERCOT continues working to implement stricter controls on how and when power plants can schedule maintenance as part of regulatory reforms enacted in response to the deadly winter storm blackouts in February 2021. Many of the new rules, however, have not yet been implemented.

In April 2021, ERCOT urged Texans to conserve energy as demand for electricity nearly surpassed supply. At that time, many power plants were offline for maintenance. A couple of months later, the grid operator again called on residents to reduce how much electricity they were using.

Largey said state officials and lawmakers have been talking about plans to increase power generation capacity since last year’s blackouts.

They’ve been talking about, as they put it, steel in the ground, figuring out ways to incentivize companies to build more power plants. And in some ways, that’s already working kind of naturally,” he said. “The amount of solar power that’s coming onto the grid this year is expected to more than double the amount of solar power that’s available on the grid right now.

“But lawmakers are also talking about, ‘How can we incentivize more natural gas plants?’, those sorts of things. And, of course, wind power is a huge part of the equation here in Texas, and we see that just continuing to grow.”

Lewin stressed long-term solutions to the problem will require not only increasing the amount of power available but reducing demand through greater efficiencies because unpredictable weather is now a fact of life.

“We’re going to get more and more of these with each passing year,” he said. “This is a shift that we have to make as a species: it’s that climate change is not a 2050 thing. It is a 2022 thing. We are living in an already altered climate.”

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