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    ERCOT expects Texas power grid to meet fall demand -- but winter fears loom

    September 22, 2023 - Sara Dinatale, San Antonio Express-News


      Sep. 21—Texans will get a short break from this summer's worries about the state power grid, according to the fall supply forecast from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

      Barring any major generation outages, the state grid operator anticipates being able to meet peak demand from October through November, the state grid operator said in its new seasonal assessment. The report also covers what circumstances would have to play out for ERCOT to resort to rolling blackouts to keep the grid operating.

      The fall report marks the last of its kind as ERCOT is switching to a monthly schedule. The new report timetable, which is to launch in October with an outlook on December's conditions, will provide the same type of analysis as the current seasonal reports but covering a shorter time period.

      "It's going to be more readable and have more features," Chief Operating Officer Woody Rickerson said during a recent ERCOT reliability and markets committee meeting. "Importantly, it will allow us to concentrate on monthly issues, not just seasonal."

      ERCOT's final seasonal report predicts a peak load of 69,654 megawatts during October and November. It says it will have 99,727 megawatts of power available during peak-use times, which is about 2,700 megawatts more than it reported in its summer report.

      It takes about 1 megawatt to power 200 homes on a hot summer day. On a more typical day, 1 megawatt can power from 750 to 1,000 homes. The grid has access to about 150,000 megawatts of power in total, though it's not all accessible at the same time.

      The report covers risk scenarios from higher-than-anticipated peak power demand, unplanned outages of gas- and coal-fired plants, and the amount of wind and solar-power produced.

      The risks

      Between the two "risk" categories — which include "elevated risks" and "extreme risks" — there are two situations that could result in ERCOT resorting to rolling outages.

      One is extremely low output from wind and solar energy. The other, more extreme scenario would be a high peak load at the same time as high gas- and coal-fired plant outages and extremely low wind output. Such conditions were seen several times this record-breaking summer.

      Despite those challenges and a steady string of requests for customers to conserve, ERCOT never had to use forced rolling power outages. The closest it came was during an unseasonably hot day early this month when a sudden drop in the frequency at which power is transmitted across the the grid forced ERCOT to declare emergency conditions for the first time since Winter Storm Uri in 2021.

      The exact cause of the frequency drop is still being investigated, but the situation was amplified by issues transmitting power across a congested line from South Texas to other parts of the state as high demand persisted at sunset, when the grid's solar power cushion was waning.

      Plant outages also contributed to the tight supply-demand situation, but those outages came after weeks of the state's aging fleet of coal- and gas-fired plants running at full capacity during an unrelenting heat dome.

      ERCOT's forecasts have missed the mark for the past two summers.

      This summer, ERCOT predicted its base peak to be 82,739 megawatts. It hit 85,464 megawatts on Aug. 10, an all-time record.

      At the same time, that summer report also said the grid's conditions would be tested if high demand was met with coal- and gas-fired plant outages and lower wind production — realities that wound up playing out.

      Both summers were characterized by a series of calls asking Texans to curb their power use at the times the grid was the tightest. Such calls would be unusual for fall, when weather is more mild and there isn't a risk of a string of 100-degree-plus days.

      Winter challenges

      Winter will bring a new set of challenges, with ERCOT's preliminary winter outlook stating a "colder-than-normal winter may be in store."

      While the summer's tightest periods were in the early evening during what ERCOT calls the "solar ramp down," Rickerson has said he expects winter's tightest periods in the early morning, before the sun is up and solar power becomes accessible.

      CPS Energy CEO Rudy Garza has also expressed concerns about the state's power grid performance this winter should extreme temperatures freeze up well heads like they did in 2021, stalling natural gas transmission to power plants.

      "What we've seen here in Texas is the winter peak rivals a summer peak these days in those moments where it gets really, really cold across the entire system," Garza said during a panel hosted by the United States Energy Association earlier this month.

      In his recent remarks to the reliability committee, Rickerson said weatherization inspectors have completed 1,344 inspections in the past 20 months. Just under 250 of those happened through the end of July.

      Rickerson said ERCOT is tracking "well ahead" of the required 1,800 inspections over the next three years — requirements that came from the Public Utility Council of Texas in response to the winter power outages that resulted in the deaths of 240 Texans.


      (c)2023 the San Antonio Express-News

      Visit the San Antonio Express-News at

      Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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