Energy instability at forefront of Texans’ minds after second straight day of ‘tight grid’ conditions

Demand climbing near supply level caused grid operator to issue conservation alert Tuesday evening

SAN ANTONIO – For the second mild spring day in a row, officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, said Wednesday that they were dealing with tight energy grid conditions.

Energy generators going through maintenance, both routine and due to damage caused by February’s winter blast, meant that around a quarter of the grid’s peak generating capacity was offline Tuesday evening when ERCOT put out a conservation alert that lasted for around four hours.

ERCOT officials on Wednesday said they were again monitoring statewide energy demand but added they did not believe it would require the operator to make a public appeal to conserve energy or to go into emergency conditions.

Still, energy concerns emerging while temperatures remain mild have raised questions about whether the state will be adequately prepared to handle the summer weather when peak energy demand will easily be double what it was on Tuesday.

Beth Garza, a senior fellow with R Street’s Energy & Environmental Policy Team, said via email Wednesday it’s not unusual for there to be energy supply shortages in Texas during the spring.

“The weather is much more variable. Certainly the past few days have brought summer-like temperatures. I’m sure I’m not alone in turning on my AC for the first time this past weekend. Higher loads, less capacity available can lead to periodic tight conditions. In the aftermath of February, I’m sure everyone is more on edge about having reliable electricity supply. But if there were to be any forced customer curtailments - WHICH I DO NOT EXPECT TO OCCUR - they would be brief. This is because the weather is nice outside and there is no competing demand for natural gas to heat homes,” said Garza, who previously served as the independent market monitor of ERCOT.

Detlef Hallermann, a professor and the director of the Reliant Energy Trade Center at Texas A&M University, said via telephone Wednesday the state’s grid was surprised by a drop off in solar generation Tuesday when its efficiency started fading as the sun began to go down.

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Woody Rickerson, ERCOT’s vice president of Grid Planning and Operations, said during a media briefing Tuesday evening that conservation alerts could be issued off and on over the next three to four weeks. However, he said he anticipates more generating capacity being available as maintenance projects wrap up ahead of the summer season.

Rickerson could not provide a breakdown during the briefing of what types of energy generation were currently offline.

The new energy grid concerns come less than two months after a February winter storm wreaked havoc on power generating infrastructure, including causing natural gas wellheads and wind energy turbines to freeze.

The loss in generating capacity forced ERCOT to shed load from the state’s power grid, causing rolling and sustained outages that left millions of Texans without power during sub-freezing temperatures.

The death toll statewide from the storm has climbed over 100 people, but that count could go much higher in the coming months as state and county officials continue to compile death records.

A bill at the Texas legislature that would dramatically reform the state’s energy industry, including making the weatherization of power infrastructure mandatory, unanimously passed through the Texas Senate late last month and is now waiting for a hearing before the House State Affairs Committee.

There are several standalone, storm-related bills in the Texas House, as well.

About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Dale Keller is senior news photographer at KSAT-12.