Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor
(The Center Square) - The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the regulatory agency that manages Texas' power grid, said tight grid conditions are expected this week due to high number of forced generation outages, and urged Texans to conserve energy.
The announcement came one month after it published its latest seasonal assessment projecting a less than a 1% chance of blackouts occurring this summer.
It also came just four months after the state's historic power grid failure left millions of Texans in the cold and dark. Without heat and water during sub-zero temperatures in mid-February, 111 Texans died.
On Monday, ERCOT asked Texans to reduce electric use as much as possible through Friday. ERCOT reported tight grid conditions after a significant number of forced generation outages occurred with record electric use for the month of June.
Generator owners reported approximately 11,000 MW of generation was on forced outage for repairs. Of that, approximately 8,000 MW is thermal, whereby water is heated to drive an electrical generator, and 3,000 MW was from intermittent sources like solar and wind. According to the summer Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy, a typical range of thermal generation outages on hot summer days is around 3,600 MW. One MW typically powers around 200 homes on a summer day, ERCOT states.
"We will be conducting a thorough analysis with generation owners to determine why so many units are out of service," ERCOT Vice President of Grid Planning and Operations Woody Rickerson said in a statement. "This is unusual for this early in the summer season."
Wind output - which is generally unreliable, because wind does not blow all the time or every day - was expected to be between 3,500 and 6,000 MW between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. Monday, roughly 1,500 MW lower than what is typically available for peak conditions. Wind output is expected to increase as the week goes on, when and if, there is more wind.
Monday's peak load forecast may exceed 73,000 MW - more than the peak demand recorded for June 27, 2018 of 69,123 MW between 4 and 5 p.m., ERCOT warned.
After ERCOT's massive failures in February, bills were introduced in the state legislature and recently signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott to reform ERCOT. Abbott vowed that through these reforms, the Texas power grid would be more reliable.
Yet weeks later, ERCOT continued "to exaggerate its reserve margins of electricity available to Texans, claiming there's less than a 1% chance of more blackouts this summer," the Texas Public Policy Foundation argues.
ERCOT's overconfidence one month ago "is a slap in the face to the Texans it is supposed to serve," TPPF's Jason Isaac said in a statement.
"The problem is straightforward, if not simple - reserve margin calculations overestimate performance of wind and solar, which make up a significant and growing chunk of our electric generation," Isaac said. "Unlike natural gas, clean coal, and nuclear - which produce a near-constant flow of electricity with reliability percentages rarely falling below the mid-90s - wind and solar production fluctuates wildly. For example, in just one summer week in 2019, wind generated between 2 and 63% of its installed capacity."
Isaac warned last year that summer blackouts were coming to Texas. Outages would have occurred last August if there hadn't been a lower electricity demand during the state shutdown, he adds. A recent close call on a mild April day "should have been a wakeup call," Isaac argues. Instead, ERCOT was "citing a deceptively rosy 15.7% reserve margin projection for this summer and 28.8% for 2022."
Its faulty calculation was based on relying on wind and solar energy generation, Isaac says; "and bad policies that discourage building reliable generation, we should get used to blackouts unless something changes fast."
ERCOT has not adjusted its reliance on unreliable sources of wind and solar for energy and is asking Texans to reduce electric use. Texans are encouraged to set their thermostat to 78 degrees or higher, turn off lights and pool pumps, and avoid using large appliances like ovens, washing machines and dryers for the rest of the week.
Texans are also encouraged to turn off and unplug all electrical devices if they aren't using them. They can also visit the Power to Save website or their electric provider for more ways to conserve energy.