Texas power grid 'stable,' but ERCOT reiterates call for conservation
The danger of the lights unexpectedly going out across Texas this week has lessened.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the agency that operates the state's power grid, described it as stable Thursday, despite reiterating a call from earlier in the week for Texans to cut back on their electricity usage through Friday.
"At this point, I believe we will come out of the conservation appeal" as scheduled on Friday, ERCOT spokeswoman Leslie Sopko said. "My understanding is the outlook will continue to get better" as more power plants are repaired and come back into service.
ERCOT first issued its plea for conservation on Monday, after an unusually large number of power plants went offline for unplanned repairs at the same time that demand for electricity was soaring as temperatures approached triple digits.
Sopko said the conservation efforts by Texans paid off. Peak demand on the ERCOT grid hit a new June record — 69,943 megawatts between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Monday — but the figure is below the peak of 73,000-plus megawatts it had been on track to hit.
The previous record for June was 69,123 megawatts, set in 2018. One megawatt is enough to power about 200 homes on a summer day.
ERCOT officials said they aren't certain why so many plants went out for unplanned repairs at around the same time, but they are beginning an investigation into the matter.
On Monday, nearly 12,000 megawatts of generation capacity were offline for unplanned maintenance — several times more than typical for June. As of Thursday morning, the figure was down to about 9,300 megawatts, ERCOT said, because some of the plants had come back into service.
Carrie Bivens, an executive with Virginia-based Potomac Economics who serves as the independent monitor of the ERCOT power market, said her firm also will begin an investigation, with a particular focus on whether any plant operators intentionally took generators offline to drive up electricity prices.
But Bivens cast doubt on the prospect that such manipulation took place, because ERCOT currently is operating under its so-called "low offer cap," which sets the maximum wholesale price at $2,000 per megawatt hour during times of scarcity.
It was at the high offer cap of $9,000 per megawatt hour during February's deadly winter freeze, when many power plants failed and millions of Texans were left without electricity during extended rolling blackouts. The high cap can only be in place for one event per year under the state's regulations.
"It's a big risk to take to try to effectuate (a manipulation of the price), and you're not going to get as much profit out of your fleet as you might with the $9,000 cap," Bivens said Thursday during a meeting of the Texas Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT.
“So I don't think the conditions are necessarily ripe from an incentive perspective" for pricing manipulation to be the culprit of this week's grid scare, she said. "But we will perform our investigation, and if we find anything we will refer it" to ERCOT officials.
Real-time prices on the ERCOT market hit the $2,000 cap on both Sunday and Monday. The high last Friday, prior to the grid's ongoing strain, was about $40 per megawatt hour.
Regardless, this week's high-profile plea for conservation — coming just four months after the grid's near meltdown in February — stunned many people across Texas. Summer doesn't even start officially until Sunday, prompting questions about how the grid will handle the hottest months of the year that are still ahead.
ERCOT officials said during Thursday's utility commission meeting that this week's problems stemmed from an unusual combination of circumstances, including high temperatures and ensuing record June demand for electricity, a large amount of unplanned maintenance on power plants and low wind speeds that idled some wind turbines.
Despite those circumstances, however, they noted that the grid's condition never reached an emergency status that might have precipitated the need for rolling blackouts, partly because of the conservation efforts by Texans.
They also indicated that there could be more such calls to cut back on electricity usage as the summer progresses.
“If we anticipate tight grid conditions, more are possible," Sopko said. "We want to make sure that Texans feel like they are aware of system conditions. We don't want to catch people off guard."