Lawmakers briefed on status of Texas’ power grid after conservation alert

Gov. Abbott addresses Texas grid concerns
Gov. Abbott addresses Texas grid concerns

Texas – Several Texas lawmakers were briefed Wednesday on the status of our state’s power grid. Gov. Greg Abbott also spoke about the recent calls for energy conservation after several power generators went offline for unexpected maintenance.

“We didn’t enter into an energy emergency alert, it was just an, ‘Conserve power if you can so we can make it through the next couple of days that were needed as those repairs were made,’” Abbott said. “They got the repairs done before the real heat of summer hits, and they should be able to go through summer, fully capable of meeting demands.”

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, ERCOT, stated the number of power generators forced offline due to unexpected maintenance is about three times higher than typically seen this time of year. On Monday, ERCOT stated 11,000 megawatts were down because of forced outages. ERCOT officials said 8,000 megawatts were from thermal energy, coal, natural gas and nuclear. According to a seasonal assessment conducted by ERCOT, typically 3,600 megawatts of thermal energy go offline on hot summer days. The remaining losses were from wind and solar energy.

ERCOT then called for five days of energy conservation as supply dwindled and the state set a new June record for energy consumption. Calls for conservation did work as ERCOT officials said energy consumption decreased and the agency avoided having to take more drastic action to keep our grid in balance.

ERCOT was roundly criticized for not better communicating potential problems during February’s storm. Abbott said the agency’s recent calls for conservation are the work of legislative mandates, part of which called for much better communication from ERCOT.

However, other lawmakers had different views on the outlook for our state’s power grid.

“At the end of the day, this is an indictment of the Texas system,” said State Rep. Gene Wu, (D) District 137. “We don’t have the capacity to meet the demands of both our population and climate change.”

Wu said following the briefing, there were still several questions as to why so many generators went offline at the same time, including whether these problems are the lingering impacts of the winter storm.

“We don’t know that, that was not made clear on our call and, you know, if there was damage from the winter storm, it’s now June,” said Wu.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt/(R) District 7 said this is why he pushed for recently passed laws to include a mandate in which ERCOT prepares for a loss of generation in both winter and summer.

“They’ve got to pull their head out of the sand and realize that it’s not just a winter storm that can cause a problem, it’s going to be a continued problem into the summer,” said Bettencourt.

Bettencourt said lawmakers also asked ERCOT whether market manipulation may be afoot.

“We’re not sure the system is not being gamed at this point in time, and we want a report from ERCOT as to whether that occurred or not.,” said Bettencourt.

Bettencourt said he expected that report to be complete in the next few weeks. ERCOT officials also wrote in a news release the number of outages was “unusual this early in the summer season,” and “we will be conducting a thorough analysis with generation owners to determine why so many units are out of service.”

State Sen. Brandon Creighton/(R) District 4 said it will take time for new laws, which include mandating power producers prepare for severe weather, to take effect. Some of the new laws changed the way the ERCOT board is chosen and gives the Public Utility Commission greater oversight of ERCOT.

“Do you think ERCOT is up to the task given what we’re seeing already?” asked KPRC 2 Investigator Robert Arnold.

“Well, we have new leadership and new personnel at ERCOT and the PUC,” said Creighton.

Bettencourt said beyond current problems, he believes Texas will need to build more base capacity into the grid. He said one of the new laws calls for ERCOT to conduct a bi-annual survey of what our energy needs are and present the findings to the legislature.

“That bill was designed to stop making it a debating society and do something about it,” said Bettencourt. “What gets measured, gets fixed and that’s what we need to make sure that we got the right data so that we’re arguing on the right points.”

As of Wednesday evening, the amount of power offline dropped from 11,000 to 9,390 megawatts. ERCOT said 8,460 megawatts of the total outages are due to unexpected maintenance. ERCOT also reported 2,764 megawatts were from renewable energy sources and 6,626 were from thermal energy.