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Energy & Environment

ERCOT Ends Energy Conservation Alert After Warning Of Emergency Grid Conditions

Power lines in south Austin during a winter storm.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas ended its conservation alert Tuesday just before 9 p.m.

"Our conservation appeal has ended without the need for an energy emergency," it said in a press release.

ERCOT had issued the alert Tuesday afternoon as demand for electricity on the grid edged close to surpassing supply. It had urged consumers and businesses to reduce their electricity use into the evening. The grid covers 90% of the state.

In a call with reporters after the alert, Woody Rickerson, vice president of grid planning and operations, said grid forecasts were off because a cold front that had been expected to drive down air conditioner use across the state did not materialize. But, he said, the primary reason for the tight supply was plants being down for maintenance.

While initially downplaying the role of February's winter storm, he conceded there were some damaged structures that needed to be repaired.

"Some of those things are being factored into the number of outages we currently have on the system," he said.

Lately, the grid operator's daily “outlooks” have forecast demand getting close to or exceeding the maximum supply of electricity it thinks will be available. But this was the first time since February’s catastrophic blackouts that ERCOT issued an alert.

ERCOT uses the alerts to reduce demand on the grid or bring extra supply online. If demand ends up exceeding supply, planned blackouts are the last resort to keep the grid from breaking down.

Why has the grid been riding so close to the edge lately? Some of it goes back to the storm and blackouts.

Caitlin Smith, VP at the consulting firm AB Power Advisors, said it’s normal for a lot of power plants to be down for maintenance in the spring. This is the time of year when plants tune up to run at full blast during the heat of summer.

But more facilities are offline right now than usual because they require repairs and upkeep stemming from the storm.

“It’s just more of those transmission and resources trying to get outages done in the same amount of time because you don’t want to take those planned maintenance outages in the summer,” she said.

Smith pointed to a graph shared at Tuesday’s ERCOT board meeting that showed “increase in outages due to system growth and maintenance from February Winter storm.”

OutageGraph.jpg

Joshua Rhodes, a research fellow at UT’s Webber Energy Group, said a lot of the power generators that have been offline are part of the state’s “thermal fleet,” that is, natural gas, coal and nuclear plants.

“About half of that fleet is offline for maintenance,” he said. Some of those power plants were down because of “fallout from the February event where a lot of things broke."

In an email to KUT before the alert was issued, ERCOT spokesperson Leslie Sopko said, ERCOT had "committed additional generation to meet the expected needs of the system.”

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