Texans asked to conserve energy to protect the power grid for the second time in a week

Utility poles lead to downtown Dallas. The state's energy grid operator has asked Texans to voluntarily reduce their energy use on Wednesday due to scorching temperatures and rising demand. (Reuters/Shelby Tauber, Reuters/Shelby Tauber)

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For the second time this week, the state’s power grid operator is asking Texans to turn up their thermostats to 78 degrees and to avoid using large appliances as it expects record-high demand for power amid ongoing scorching temperatures. It is asking for conservation from 2 to 9 p.m. Wednesday.

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A spokesperson for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s main power grid operator, said he does not expect rolling blackouts to happen Wednesday.

The call for conservation came because of higher-than-expected outages at coal and natural gas-fired power plants, as well as low winds, as demand continues to rise because of higher-than-normal temperatures.

“The fleet has been run extremely hard this year and especially this summer, so it’s not surprising that wear-and-tear is starting to bear out in the form of components breaking,” said Michele Richmond, executive director of the Texas Competitive Power Advocates, which represents power generators.

Solar power, which has performed well this summer, was also struggling Wednesday to produce as much electricity as expected, ERCOT said, because of some dark clouds over solar farms in West Texas.

When Texans were asked Monday to conserve electricity, ERCOT said that appeal reduced demand on the power grid by 500 megawatts during the afternoon. ERCOT did not come close to implementing rolling blackouts.

Power grids must keep supply and demand in balance at all times. When Texas’ grid falls below its safety margin of excess supply, the grid operator starts taking additional precautions to avoid blackouts.

The first precaution is to ask the public to voluntarily cut back electricity usage. The next step is for the grid operator to tell the public the grid could be at risk of not having enough power to meet demand and ordering Texans to cut back electricity usage. If the grid’s conditions still don’t improve, ERCOT would then implement controlled, rotating power outages, in which Texans in some areas could lose power for up to 45 minutes at a time.

Power grids around the world are facing tests this summer as climate change has led to hotter temperatures and Russia’s war with Ukraine has strained fuel supplies. In Japan, officials asked residents in late June to conserve electricity during unusually hot weather. In the U.S., officials have warned about possible power outages this summer due to record heat and demand for power.

In May, ERCOT asked Texans to conserve power during a heat wave that coincided with six power plant outages.

Climate change has made Texas heat both hotter and longer lasting. The average daily minimum and maximum temperatures in Texas have both increased by 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 125 years. The state just saw its hottest December on record since 1889.

In Houston, Saturday through Tuesday were the hottest consecutive four days on record, according to meteorologists with Space City Weather.

Check back for more on this developing story.

Disclosure: Texas Competitive Power Advocates has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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