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blackouts

Will we have enough power?

Maybe not. From the EDF.

It’s understandable that no one seems to have noticed a strongly worded letter to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) last Monday demanding more action to ensure electric reliability in Texas, and asking ERCOT to report back to NERC by April 30 on additional actions taken.  NERC isn’t some federal boogey man either; it’s a corporation founded by the electric industry to create commonly accepted standards for electric reliability across North America, usually through voluntary compliance.  President Bush’s Energy Policy Act of 2005 gave the corporation “the authority to create and enforce compliance with Reliability Standards,” which is where this letter comes into play.

In their 2012 report, NERC highlighted ERCOT as the only region in North America that was not maintaining adequate electric reserves to meet demand, and with this letter they made it very clear that the actions taken to date have not done enough to mitigate that risk.  In the letter, NERC President Gerry Cauley notes that the PUC and ERCOT are continuing to address energy reliability issues, but finds that “solutions have not yet sufficiently materialized to address NERC’s reserve margin concern.”

Cauley goes on to say that “it is still unclear to us how ERCOT intends to mitigate issues that may arise on the current trajectory and when new resources may be available to meet growing demand.”  So according to the corporation whose membership consists mostly of utilities, grid operators, large and small customers, and electric regulators, the actions that the PUC and ERCOT have taken at this point are not enough to ensure we’ll have reliable electric supply, risking blackouts as soon as this summer.

As lawmakers settle into Austin for the next few months they’ll certainly be paying close attention to this issue, though many have indicated they would prefer that ERCOT and the PUC develop the solutions to this problem.  Cauley’s letter serves as notice that the PUC and ERCOT need to be more aggressive if they want to ensure a reliable supply of power in Texas.  Certainly both agencies are putting serious time and effort into keeping the lights on in Texas, including effort so expand existing demand response programs, but NERC clearly thinks they need to be doing more.

This was also noted by Loren Steffy, who says that Texas is now “under more pressure than ever to encourage generation, and that’s likely to mean higher prices at a time when the deregulated market was supposed to be delivering lower prices to consumers”. (He also notes that consumer protections are likely to be weakened, because that’s how we roll in this state.) Thanks to the continued tax credit in the so-called fiscal “cliff” deal, there will be more wind projects gearing up, and ERCOT foresees $8.9 billion in electric transmission projects by the end of 2017, but neither will help in the short term, and it’s still not enough for the longer term. I don’t know what else there is to be done, so just consider this a heads up for when the crunch does hit.

ERCOT hopes this summer is better than the last

That would be nice.

Managers of the state’s primary electricity grid expect to avoid rolling blackouts this summer but not without calling on Texans to turn up their thermostats and conserve power during peak usage on the season’s hottest afternoons.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas is also bringing back mothballed power plants — some 35 to 40 years old — to give itself a larger margin of error than last summer’s near-miss on rolling blackouts.

ERCOT has tweaked its program that pays large industrial and commercial users to interrupt their power during emergencies and is adding to the list smaller customers who generate their own power on-site.

“We have taken an ‘all of the above’ approach to meeting Texans’ electricity needs this summer,” said Donna Nelson, who chairs the Public Utility Commission of Texas.

Despite its efforts, ERCOT, which serves 23 million people, expects “a significant chance” it will have to issue several emergency alerts asking Texans to conserve electricity, especially at the usual daily peak usage times of 4 to 7 p.m.

More information here. We’re projected to be low on reserve power by 2014, so enjoy this while you can, and do what you can to bug your elected officials about making energy conservation a priority.

Rolling blackouts may be on the summer horizon

Better hope the mild weather we’re getting in winter translates to mild weather for the summer, because the alternative isn’t pretty.

Inadequate electric power reserves likely will force Texans to cut back this summer to avoid rolling outages if the weather matches last year’s record heat, utility experts warned legislators [last] Thursday.

“We have to have conservation, and everyone made a tremendous difference during the peak of hot, summer days (last) August. We have to have that, plus some, to survive this summer without rotating outages,” H.B. “Trip” Doggett, president and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, told the House State Affairs Committee.

Legislators are looking at the state’s electricity market to find ways to keep lights on in Texas during peak demand periods. A range of issues contributes to the problem, including surging population growth, regulatory influences on the power industry, low natural gas prices that discourage new power plants, and difficulties in borrowing money to build them. Texas faces “a serious problem,” State Affairs Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, said after 13 experts spoke to his committee.

“It looks like we’re going to really have to embrace conservation because we don’t have the extra generation,” he said.

I’d say we need to embrace conservation anyway for a whole host of reasons, but in this particular case the need is obvious. One solution suggested in the story to help achieve that is a public relations campaign to explain the situation to residents. I remember Con Edison in New York doing exactly this sort of thing in the 70s. They were a sponsor of Yankee games on WPIX, and their exhortations to conserve electricity, usually given by the Yankees’ broadcasters, were on all the time. If I can remember that 35 years later, it seems safe to suggest this kind of campaign can have an effect. We’ll need a lot more than that going forward, but one hopes this can suffice for now.