Texans asked twice in a week to conserve energy to protect power grid

By: - July 13, 2022 10:05 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – For the second time this week, the state’s power grid operator is asking Texans to turn up their thermostats to 78 degrees and to avoid using large appliances as it expects record-high demand for power amid ongoing scorching temperatures. It most recently asked for conservation from 2 to 9 p.m. Wednesday.

A spokesperson for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s main power grid operator, said he did not expect rolling blackouts to happen Wednesday.

The call for conservation came because of higher-than-expected outages at coal and natural gas-fired power plants, as well as low winds, as demand continues to rise because of higher-than-normal temperatures.

“The fleet has been run extremely hard this year and especially this summer, so it’s not surprising that wear-and-tear is starting to bear out in the form of components breaking,” said Michele Richmond, executive director of the Texas Competitive Power Advocates, which represents power generators.

Solar power, which has performed well this summer, was also struggling Wednesday to produce as much electricity as expected, ERCOT said, because of some dark clouds over solar farms in West Texas.

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When Texans were asked Monday to conserve electricity, ERCOT said that appeal reduced demand on the power grid by 500 megawatts during the afternoon. ERCOT did not come close to implementing rolling blackouts.

Power grids must keep supply and demand in balance at all times. When Texas’ grid falls below its safety margin of excess supply, the grid operator starts taking additional precautions to avoid blackouts.

The first precaution is to ask the public to voluntarily cut back electricity usage. The next step is for the grid operator to tell the public the grid could be at risk of not having enough power to meet demand and ordering Texans to cut back electricity usage. If the grid’s conditions still don’t improve, ERCOT would then implement controlled, rotating power outages, in which Texans in some areas could lose power for up to 45 minutes at a time.

Power grids around the world are facing tests this summer as climate change has led to hotter temperatures and Russia’s war with Ukraine has strained fuel supplies. In Japan, officials asked residents in late June to conserve electricity during unusually hot weather. In the U.S., officials have warned about possible power outages this summer due to record heat and demand for power.

In May, ERCOT asked Texans to conserve power during a heat wave that coincided with six power plant outages.

Climate change has made Texas heat both hotter and longer lasting. The average daily minimum and maximum temperatures in Texas have both increased by 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 125 years. The state just saw its hottest December on record since 1889.

In Houston, Saturday through Tuesday were the hottest consecutive four days on record, according to meteorologists with Space City Weather.

Texans asked to conserve energy to protect the power grid for the second time in a week” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a member-supported, nonpartisan, nonprofit newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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Mitchell Ferman
Mitchell Ferman

Mitchell Ferman is a reporter for The Texas Tribune covering energy and the economy from a base in Houston. Before joining the Tribune he was a reporter for The Monitor in McAllen, Texas, where he covered cross-border trade, politics and the city of McAllen. He also regularly freelanced from the Rio Grande Valley and beyond for The New York Times, Texas Monthly and Reuters, writing about topics including the family separation crisis and unexpected consequences of the border wall. He graduated from the University of Missouri.

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