Texas grid operator urges residents to conserve power amid heat wave
By Snesha Dey & Mitchell Ferman, The Texas Tribune
The state's power grid operator asked Texans to turn up their thermostats and postpone running major appliances between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Monday. Photo by Oliver Peters/Pixabay
July 11 (UPI) -- With a punishing heat wave across Texas driving record high power demand, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas late Sunday sent out a request that Texans cut back on their energy use Monday.
ERCOT, the state's power grid operator, asked Texans to turn up their thermostats and postpone running major appliances between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Monday. ERCOT has also called on large electric customers to lower their electricity use. Nearly all industrial-scale Bitcoin miners in the state have shut off their machines in response to the call, representing over 1% of total grid capacity, Bloomberg News reported.
Total forecasted power demand is expected to surpass 79 gigawatts on Monday, ERCOT said -- which would set another record. The previous record-high demand on the ERCOT grid during summer was 74.8 gigawatts, in August 2019.
An ERCOT spokesperson told The Texas Tribune on Monday that the grid operator does not expect rolling blackouts this week.
Low winds are also making it harder for the grid to keep up with demand during hotter-than-usual July temperatures. Current projections show wind generation coming in at less than 10% of its capacity on Monday, ERCOT said.
Winds in Texas often drop during the daytime, especially in the summer. ERCOT forecasts more wind power will be available to the grid on Tuesday.
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 in serious condition, and Texans need to cut back electricity usage in order to help the grid. 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.
When ERCOT on Sunday night asked Texans to voluntarily cut back electricity usage on Monday, the news release did not warn of possible rotating blackouts. ERCOT said there could be a possible shortage of reserve power in particular, not that there would be a shortage of power to cover demand on the grid.
Texas is facing extreme heat conditions this year, with much of the state under temperatures above 100 degrees. As of Monday morning, the National Weather Service has issued heat advisories or excessive heat warnings for 154 of the state's 254 counties. Some regions are breaking heat records: On Sunday, Austin hit an all-time record high for July at 110 degrees, while San Antonio saw the hottest temperatures on record in the city at 106 degrees.
"We're in the thick of some of the hottest temperatures we've seen in San Antonio ever. ... By any measure, this is an extremely hot summer," said Rudy Garza, CEO of CPS Energy, San Antonio's power utility company.
San Antonio officials held a press conference Monday to update residents on the measures the city is taking to reduce its energy consumption. The temperature in city buildings will be turned to 78 degrees or higher, and the San Antonio Water System is turning off the water recycling pumps that put recycled water into the San Antonio River.
The H2Oaks Center, a plant that pulls water from three aquifers, will also be turned off, and instead San Antonio will draw water only from the Edwards Aquifer to supplement its needs.
"That particular plant that we're going to shut down is really I think going to be helpful because it does use a lot of energy," said Robert Puente, president and CEO of SAWS. "As a customer, you will not see faucets where you have lower pressure. You'll still be able to use your sinks."
The city of Dallas has provided residents with a list of 15 cooling stations open Monday that will be air conditioned and provide limited supplies of water.
Gov. Greg Abbott has not yet publicly commented on the strain that high temperatures are putting on the grid. Texas Democrats are going after Abbott for putting out a campaign ad about small businesses. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke, who has made the power outages during last year's winter storm a central theme of his campaign, pinned the pressures on the grid on the governor.
"We can't rely on the grid when it's hot. We can't rely on the grid when it's cold. We can't rely on Greg Abbott. It's time to vote him out and fix the grid," O'Rourke said in a tweet on Monday.
The Texas Legislature in 2021 did require power companies to upgrade plants to withstand more extreme weather and create a statewide emergency alert system. Energy experts say lawmakers could have also passed legislation to pay consumers to reduce electricity usage or help Texans better insulate their homes and reduce their electricity usage.
Ariana Perez-Castells contributed to this story.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.