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    Ahead of today's heat and near-record electricity demand, CPS says all its plants are back online


    August 4, 2022 - Diego Mendoza-Moyers, San Antonio Express-News

     

      Aug. 4—As the Texas power grid girds for what could be another sweltering day of record-breaking power demand today, CPS Energy said all its power plant units were running and ready after recent breakdowns.

      Three of the utility's largest plant units broke down for weeks in May and June. But heading into today's heat, the utility's power plants "are hanging on pretty good," said Benny Ethridge, a senior vice president at CPS who manages energy generation.

      "We've got everything in the mix running," Ethridge said Wednesday, adding that CPS has a "good chance" to see record power demand in San Antonio today. Its previous record for demand was set in July.

      Temperatures in San Antonio are expected to hit 103 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Forecasts for Austin and Dallas call for heat well over 100 degrees, while the high in Houston is to expected to hit 99.

      Early Wednesday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas — the state grid operator — had been forecasting record-setting power demand of more than 80 gigawatts today, but revised its forecast down. Still, it's expecting today's demand to top 79 gigawatts. The current record of 79.8 gigawatts was set July 20.

      "Temperatures have been hotter than we've dealt with before," Ethridge said.

      Across the statewide grid, ERCOT has said it has adequate energy reserves to meet demand — even record demand.

      For its part, CPS operates six power stations in San Antonio and is partial owner of the South Texas Nuclear Project plant in Matagorda County.

      CPS plants down

      At a CPS Energs board meeting last week, Ethridge told trustees that three of its primary power plants — including the Spruce 2 coal unit, CPS' largest plant — were out of service in May and June for as much as three weeks at a time. That was because of a variety of mechanical breakdowns such as a tube leak or a broken feed water pump. Parts shortages prolonged some repair work, Ethridge said.

      Such failures are a growing concern across the state as record-setting demand continues.

      Nuclear, natural gas and coal-fired power plants across Texas have been running hard during this summer's intense heat. As they've been asked to generate more electricity to allow Texans to keep cranking up air conditioners, utilities have had less time to perform maintenance necessary to maintain reliability.

      Such maintenance is typically performed during mild-weather months in the spring and fall, when demand for power is lowest. But after Winter Storm Uri last year, CPS didn't take any plants offline for maintenance in January or February to ensure the city would have enough electricity if another deep freeze hit.

      This year's hot spring also kept many plants across the grid running and without routine maintenance.

      "We're shortening the period of time between unit maintenance outages," Ethridge said. "We're running more this year than we did last year, and significantly more than we did the year before."

      From May to July, CPS generated 5.2 million megawatt hours of electricity. That was up from 5 million in the same period last year, and 4.3 million the year before.

      Even with ERCOT's 11 days of record-breaking electric demand so far this year, the state has so far avoided major outages. That's in part because ERCOT now pays some power plants to remain on standby, ready to fire up and produce power whether it's needed or not. Previously, plants were only paid for the power they sold onto the grid.

      While that has helped keep the lights on this year, it has also strained plants that wouldn't be running if ERCOT wasn't forcing them to stay online.

      "We're running these units out of an abundance of caution, and putting more hours on them than we would ordinarily," Ethridge said.

      Demand going up

      ERCOT expects demand for electricity to continue increasing in the years ahead as the state's population grows and economy expands. The growth of energy-hungry industries such as crypto mining figure to pose challenges for the Texas grid as miners set up operations here.

      Population growth is also pushing demand. In San Antonio, CPS expects more than 1 million new residents in the next two to three decades.

      "We have seen a continued uptick in our demand," Ethridge said. "We've got hot temperatures and we have more citizens now, more people moving into our city."

      CPS plans to bolster its generation fleet by signing a tolling agreement this year with a natural gas plant located somewhere in Texas. CPS will provide the natural gas to fuel the plant and take back the electricity it generates.

      Ethridge said contracting with another plant "would help" the utility's reliability.

      "If I've got alternate power to call on than what we've got here in our aging fleet, that's just another level of protection," he said.

      Still, he said it's not just wind and solar farms that are intermittent contributors, but also traditional power plants.

      "We've got to have the ability to make up generation when we lose the renewables. The same applies for our traditional thermal generation. This equipment fails too," Ethridge said. "No technology is 100 percent."

      mailto:diego.mendoza-moyers@express-news.net">diego.mendoza-moyers@express-news.net

      ___

      (c)2022 the San Antonio Express-News

      Visit the San Antonio Express-News at www.mysanantonio.com

      Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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