Nov 27, 2023 - News

ERCOT prepping for winter electric demand

Illustration of the state of Texas combined with an electricity pylon whose power lines are damaged and fallen

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The operator of the Texas power grid expects to have enough electricity to keep the lights on this winter after making it through an extremely hot summer with record power demands.

Why it matters: Electric demand has been increasing across Texas as more people and businesses move to the state.

  • The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the grid that covers most of the state, issued 11 voluntary conservation notices this summer asking residents and businesses to reduce energy use during peak times.

State of play: In October, ERCOT requested energy companies reopen shuttered plants to generate 3,000 additional megawatts, hoping to cover winter demand. That's enough electricity to power about 600,000 homes.

  • The grid operator canceled the request this month after not receiving enough offers.
  • ERCOT isn't predicting emergency conditions this winter.

Context: The grid operator has been closely watched since February 2021, when mass outages during a winter storm led to hundreds of deaths, costing the Texas economy an estimated $80 billion-$130 billion and causing as much as $20 billion in property damage.

  • Natural gas facilities faltered and shouldered much of the blame for the outages.
  • Since then, renewable energy production has increased, keeping the grid stable during peak summer demand. And, solar and wind generation have kept costs down for consumers.
  • ERCOT predicts this winter's demand will be 78,900 megawatts — below the projected capacity — based on the electric needs during last year's winter storm when temperatures dropped below freezing before Christmas.

Zoom in: The state oil and gas regulator adopted new rules last year requiring natural gas supply chain and pipeline operators to prepare for extreme weather.

  • Companies could be fined up to $1 million for not complying but critics say that doesn't provide enough incentive.

What they're saying: "The grid's going to be as ready as it's ever been this winter," ERCOT CEO Pablo Vargas said on the "Y'all-itics" podcast.

Yes, but: The Texas grid is particularly vulnerable to generators going offline during extreme cold snaps, per a recent North American Electric Reliability Corp outlook, which says more than half of the U.S. and parts of Canada could fall short on electricity this winter.

  • Nearly 40% of the state's thermal generation plants — think coal and natural gas power — are over 30 years old.
  • 30% are over 40.
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