What prompted the September 6th energy emergency? Here’s what ERCOT says

HOUSTON – The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) instituted an Energy Emergency Alert on September 6, but avoided calling for controlled outages to keep the grid in balance.

ERCOT officials told KPRC 2, “The low power reserve condition was due to a variety of factors that included continued high temperatures, very high demand (all-time September peak) relatively low wind output, end-of-day solar generation down ramp, and a transmission limitation in the south Texas region that restricted the flow of generation out of South Texas to the rest of the grid.”

“What happened Wednesday is we had the toughest situation the grid has faced even though it wasn’t quite as hot as it was in August,” said Rice University environmental engineering professor Daniel Cohan.

Cohan calls it the “sunset squeeze.” Solar power is tapering off as nighttime wind power from West Texas is ramping up, along with natural gas, coal and nuclear.

“Usually when the sun is setting, we have over half our electricity coming from natural gas, so it was absolutely crucial,” said Cohan.

Cohan also said afternoon coastal winds typically help meet demand during this time of day.

“South Texas in the summer, what we get most strongly is these afternoon sea breezes, just as it’s the hottest and our air conditioners are running the most,” said Cohan. “The problem that we faced on Wednesday night is we couldn’t bring up as much of the power of those afternoon sea breezes as we could have and really helped the grid.”

ERCOT officials approved a $329.1 million plan at the end of August to increase transmission capacity in South Texas. The project has an estimated completion date of 2027 but still has to be approved by the Public Utility Commission. ERCOT officials believe the project will help alleviate energy bottlenecks in the region. Cohan said ERCOT is facing similar issues in West Texas, where nighttime wind power helps supply the grid.

“ERCOT is working on it but it often takes a few years time to get transmission capacity expanded,” said Cohan.

Cohan said believes the grid is in far better shape than 2 years ago because Texas’ investment in solar and batteries provides more of a cushion.

“This is by far the hottest it’s been any summer since 2011, and of course since the 2011 drought we’ve had 12 years’ worth of growth; people moving to Texas, bitcoin mines, data centers, industry. So we’ve never experienced this many people, this big of an economy hit with this kind of heat wave,” said Cohan.

Lawmakers recently passed a bill to incentivize building more natural gas plants in Texas, but those projects can take three to five years to complete.

About the Author:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”