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ERCOT Calls On Texans To Conserve Power Amid High Summer Demand, Forced Outages

Power lines in South Austin during February's winter storm. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas is asking people to conserve power as much as possible amid high demand for electricity and several forced outages.
Power lines in South Austin during February's winter storm. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas is asking people to conserve power as much as possible amid high demand for electricity and several forced outages.

ERCOT said several power generators in the state are on forced outages for repairs, putting about 11,000 megawatts — about the amount of energy it takes to power 2.2 million homes on a summer day — out of commission.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas on Monday asked people to conserve energy throughout the week as the supply of electricity on the Texas grid ran the risk of falling short of demand.

Texans should reduce their electricity use through Friday, ERCOT said.

It is the second time the state’s grid operator has made such a request since devastating blackouts gripped Texas in February.

In a media release, ERCOT blamed the tight grid conditions on more electric generators than usual being shut down for repairs. The grid operator said 11,000 megawatts of generation capacity — about the amount of energy it takes to power 2.2 million homes on a summer day — is unavailable due to those forced outages. One megawatt of electricity can usually power about 200 homes on a summer day.

According to ERCOT, about 73% of that unavailable power comes from “thermal” generators, typically gas and coal plants, being offline.

“This is unusual for this early in the summer season,” ERCOT Vice President of Grid Planning and Operations Woody Rickerson said in the statement.

Generator owners have told ERCOT the number of outages should reduce by the end of the week. Rickerson said ERCOT will conduct "a thorough analysis with generation owners to determine why so many units are out of service.”

Adding to the pressure on the grid is potential for record-breaking June electricity demand as cities across Texas expect temperatures in the 90s or higher.

ERCOT is forecasting that demand on Monday will exceed 73,000 megawatts. The daily record for June is 69,123 megawatts, which was set on June 27, 2018.

When supply and demand for electricity fall out of balance, the electric grid runs the risk of completely failing. In that scenario, hardware essential to the generation and transmission of electricity breaks down and the entire grid goes dark.

ERCOT officials have said re-energizing the state after such a collapse could take weeks. That is one reason they resort to planned blackouts to restore balance on the grid, viewing it as preferable to what they often refer to as "catastrophic failure" of the grid.

ERCOT's latest request for conservation is bound to increased calls for an overhaul of how Texas runs its grid. In this year’s legislative session, lawmakers passed a series of reforms aimed at safeguarding the state against blackouts.

At a signing ceremony last week, Gov. Greg Abbott said that “everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas.”

But grid experts have warned that the risk of big blackouts remains unless the state does more to overhaul its deregulated energy market and provide more backup power in times of emergency. They say that risk will only increase as the temperature rises, unless more electric generators are brought back online.

“I shudder to think what things would be [like] if we were actually having a heat wave,” said Dan Cohan, a civil engineering professor at Rice University, after a similar call for conservation was released during relatively mild weather in April.

To avoid the need to institute blackouts, ERCOT offered Texans these tips to help conserve power:

  • Set thermostats to 78 degrees or higher.
  • Turn off lights and pool pumps.
  • Avoid using large appliances like ovens, washing machines and dryers
  • Turn off and unplug any device not currently in use.

Copyright 2021 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.