ERCOT Warns of Potential Power Supply Shortage In Coming Years

By: Daniel Armbruster Email
By: Daniel Armbruster Email

It's not officially summer and Texas is already heating up, but not just outside. ERCOT executives are feeling the heat to makes sure the power stays on through another hot summer in a state that continues to grow.

“A lot of people building homes. A lot of those homes are bigger than they used to be,” said Paul Wattles, Senior Analyst, Market Design & Development, ERCOT. Wattles, says keeping the power on during peak times is a complicated task as more people are moving to Texas because of a strong economy. However, the deregulated electric market isn't generating new sources of power to keep up with demand.

“We haven't seen the kind of investment in new capacity that we had hoped for,” said Wattles.

So if new generators don't come online and demand exceeds supply, power has to be temporarily dropped in certain areas on the state’s power grid to avoid an overload or a statewide black out.

“We don't like to have to do it, but it is a tool. It is the last tool in our tool box,” said Wattles, talking about rolling blackouts.

The decision to activate power emergencies and use rolling black outs are made at ERCOT's control center in Taylor, TX where engineers and technicians don't make decisions on who loses power. Rather monitor the state's power grid around the clock to notify electric companies where problems may be. Even with all of the state of the art technology to keep the power on, you still can't control the weather.

“There's always a chance of extreme events,” said Wattles.

After a record breaking spring, ERCOT is relying on forecasts that show changes in the weather pattern, favoring a milder summer compared to last year.

“It looks like we may have a more El Nino type of year where you get a lot of rain moving across the region,” said Wattles.

Of course, it's almost impossible to accurately predict Texas weather all of the time, but ERCOT says the real concern could start in the coming years. As demand is expected to increase even more, but the ability to bring in reserve power is not.

While there have been recent power outages in Bryan and College Station those have not been related to rolling blackouts. Rolling black outs are done on purpose. The recent power outages were due to mechanical failures during severe weather and downed power lines.

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