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Are Texas Electricity Providers Ready for the Coming Extreme Weather?

December 12, 2011

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s electricity grid operator, recently announced that the coming extreme weather conditions this winter may require more generating capacity from  Texas electricity generators. Without this additional capacity, the state may face a new rash of electricity emergencies and may eventually result in rolling blackouts, similar to what occurred in February of this year.

The question now hanging in consumers’ minds is whether Texas electricity providers have enough generating capacity to meet potential simultaneous worst case scenarios: extreme winter weather that may cause damages to utilities and power plants resulting in generation outages and the mothballing of several coal-fired power plants by Texas electricity providers to comply with new EPA clean air requirements. Although ERCOT admitted that the risk for outages may be on the low side, the potential issues are still present and worthy of being highlighted for increased consumer awareness.

As a proactive step, ERCOT is currently working on changing some rules pertaining to the grid operator’s emergency demand response program and has coordinated the Public Utility Commission of Texas in this regard. On top of that, ERCOT has also asked Texas electricity providers to review their existing capacity levels and work out additional capacity that they can contribute to the overall grid. 

Winter and Rolling Blackouts

Under normal weather conditions, Texas electricity providers can have an overall capacity of 64,000 megawatts which could effectively supply power to the 54,000 demand during peak hours. However, the extreme weather conditions this coming winter could increase Texas electricity demand to 60,000 megawatts. This can be aggravated by the fact that power generation could dip down to 57,000 during such conditions and would be unable to meet demands during peak hours.

This is reminiscent to the occurrence of rolling blackouts last February, the second time it hit the energy capital during the last few decades. The extreme weather conditions during that time forced Texas electricity providers to shutdown power generators. The problem almost repeated last summer when the extremely high temperature levels triggered increased Texas electricity demand, prompting ERCOT to mobilize its emergency demand response program.

Are Texas Electricity Providers Ready to Meet Demands? 

Since May, available generating capacity by Texas electricity providers dropped by 4 percent according to ERCOT. This raised concerns from several sectors fearing that demand during the coming extreme weather cycles in winter and subsequently during the next summer may not be met unless additional capacity is generated.

Each megawatt generated by Texas electricity providers is enough to feed 500 homes on the average under normal weather conditions and electricity usage. This figure drops down to only 200 homes during extremely hot weather conditions, brought about by longer air conditioning operating times.

ERCOT reported that 13.75 percent margin Texas electricity generating capacity reserves are sufficient to meet abnormal weather conditions and potential generator outages. However, the grid operator projected that reserve generating capacity may fall short and will reach only 12 percent margins. There are however, an additional 59,000 megawatts of capacity in review that could be used to beef up the grid, but there are no substantial finalization that such capacities in review will ever materialize.

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