Texas’ power stayed on even as ERCOT underestimated demand


By Shelby Webb

Houston Chronicle , December 27,2022


Temperatures plummeted to the teens and water pipes froze. But Texas’ power grid successfully faced its most significant cold-weather test since the February 2021 freeze.


Despite soaring and unexpectedly high demand for power that broke a seasonal record, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and power generators were able to distribute and create enough electricity to keep homes warm and lights on. At its peak around 8 a.m., Texans used 73,963 megawatts, enough electricity to power nearly 14.8 million homes.


That is nearly 4,000 megawatts more than ERCOT officials predicted, and at times late Thursday and early Friday, ERCOT’s demand forecasts were off by more than 10,000 megawatts, or enough power for about 2 million homes.


To handle the higher-than-expected demand, ERCOT called on generators that could ramp up quickly to provide more than 12,000 megawatts of power from about 7 a.m. to about 9:30 a.m. Those generators were allowed to drop off the grid just after 10 a.m.


“My guess is they had to scramble like crazy to bring on more generation, and once they realized the magnitude of how much they undershot the forecast last night, they had to bring on a lot more and assume they were going to continue to be that magnitude short basically for the entire day,” said Alison Silverstein, an Austin-based energy consultant who has worked for the Public Utility Commission of Texas  — which oversees ERCOT  — and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.


ERCOT officials were not able to comment on the amount of power the grid would need Friday night, but they said they expected to have enough generation to keep the grid stable through the weekend.


One thing is certain as temperatures stay well below freezing: The grid won’t have the same amount of wind power available as when the cold front blew through overnight Thursday. At one point early Thursday evening, wind accounted for almost 36 percent of all power available on the grid.

Those same winds, however, posed problems for CenterPoint, which transmits the power to most homes and businesses in the Houston area. The regulated utility said more than 238,700 customers in the Houston area lost power temporarily during the 24-hour period after temperatures began to drop Thursday.

Added cost


While the grid survived its big test, keeping lights on and homes warm will undoubtedly cost customers down the road.


If ERCOT again needs reserves to meet demand, doing so will come with a substantial price tag, said David Tuttle, a research associate with the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.


Between August 2021 and August 2022, ERCOT on multiple days tapped power reserves approaching levels reached Thursday night. Those instances cost ratepayers an additional $800 million to $1 billion during that time, ERCOT’s independent market monitor testified at a Texas House State Affairs Committee hearing this month. That has already boosted electricity bills statewide, Tuttle said.


Electricity rates are much higher now than even a year ago, largely because of the rising cost of natural gas over the past year but also because electricity retailers and municipal power providers are paying more for the more cautious operating measures taken during extreme weather events, like the summer’s heat wave and this weekend’s freeze.

“We had the grid operator making sure there were no blackouts, which they succeeded, but that costs money and you’re seeing that rolling into the rates retail customers are paying,” Tuttle said. “I think a lot of people say they would pay some to make sure we do not go through another (February 2021 freeze) situation, but folks want to understand that what is being done is happening in the most economic way as far as achieving that reliability.”


The grid’s reliability this week has depended on power generators, many of whom were unable to produce power during the February 2021 freeze. It appeared there were few outages among generators Thursday night and Friday, which Silverstein credited to the lack of snow and ice and recent efforts to protect facilities from cold.


Originally Posted by The Houston Chronicle

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