ERCOT’S early call for energy conservation puts grid watchers on alert for trouble ahead – Texas Public Radio

by | May 16, 2022 | Energy

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Texas is expected to break a record for spring electricity use Monday afternoon, beating a previous all-time high set just last Friday. That high demand, coupled with breakdowns at power plants, caused the state to call for energy conservation over the weekend.

KUT’s Trey Shaar talks with Mose Buchele about what happened and what to expect this week.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.

Shaar: Ever since the big blackout last year, state officials including Gov. Abbott have promised Texans that “the lights will stay on.” Then, last Friday, they asked everyone to turn their metaphorical lights down to make sure the power grid kept running. What happened?

Buchele: We had record-breaking demand thanks to record-breaking heat. That high demand hit when a bunch of power plants were down for repairs. Then other power plants broke down unexpectedly. It’s the same formula that always causes problems: high demand, breakdown in supply, and suddenly you might not have as much power as people want.

What does this say about state efforts to “fix” the grid since the last big blackout?

Well, it means we’re not there yet. A lot of Texas power plants have been running full bore for months now, in part to show Texans that we have plenty of electric capacity. But, as we just saw, when some of those plants break, it can push us close to a tailspin.

There’s a real question of whether the system being run so hard could lead to more breakdowns. Power plants need to shut down for repairs and maintenance, but since the 2021 blackout there’s been a lot of pressure for them to be always available.

My understanding is that May is a typical time for those repairs to take place.

Yes, and that’s another part of this. These so-called “shoulder months” are supposed to be times when the weather is mild, so power plants can shut down for maintenance. Global warming is shaking all of that up. This heat is unheard of. Much of the state — including Austin — has seen days of record-breaking temperatures. We went from a pretty chilly winter to a scorching spring. These extremes are gonna be hard for a power grid to handle, especially one with a bunch of older power plants.

There were concerns about the grid over the winter during some cold spells. It seems that state officials handled this …

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