‘We’re better prepared’: ERCOT, PUC confident Texas’ power grid will withstand the winter

New report says that rolling blackouts could be possible if there is an “extreme” energy demand of electricity in Texas

The state’s power grid is ready for the upcoming winter season, but more “long term” solutions are needed to ensure energy reliability, according to the heads of the Public Utility Commission of Texas and ERCOT.

ERCOT on Tuesday released its Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy report for the winter, which includes estimates related to the state grid’s expected reliably through the cold season under different scenarios.

In its report, released Tuesday, ERCOT estimated a peak energy demand of 67,398 megawatts during the winter months. The state’ main grid operator reported that about 87,300 megawatts is expected to be available during times of peak demand.

Peter Lake, chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, and Pablo Vegas, CEO of ERCOT, explained at news conference Tuesday the changes implemented to grid operations following the deadly February 2021 winter storm, when millions of Texans lost power and hundreds of people died.

“In the past 18 months, because we’ve had these reforms in place, we have avoided emergency conditions or blackouts eight times — we know the reforms are working, we’ve seen the results and we’re going to continue with those reforms,” Lake said.

Changes mandated increased weatherization standards for generators and enhanced inspections, Lake said.

Lake also said the utility commission is working to improve communication between the natural gas industry, ERCOT and state agencies that contribute to grid reliability.

“We’ve built out a map — a critical supply chain and critical infrastructure network — to make sure that the natural gas supply chain stays online at all times and to ensure that gas continues to flow to our generators,” Lake said.

Lake also said ERCOT and the utility commission created a new “Firm Fuel Supply Service” that would add nearly 3,000 megawatts of power to “bolster and enhance” the grid going into winter.

ERCOT’s forecast for the winter season states that enough energy resources would be available to handle expected energy demand.

But the report also states that rolling blackouts would be possible if there is “extreme” energy demand — similar to February 2021 — given how much power generation is expected under “typical” conditions.

Energy demand in the state grew about 5,000 megawatts since last winter, Vegas said, pointing to population and business growth in the state.

He said ERCOT is adding to its source of reserves to meet demand during times of peak energy demand. The grid operator, Vegas said, included 1,000 megawatts of power from batteries in its season report for the first time.

“Let me be clear that the actions that we’ve taken over this last year and a half position us as best as we have been to operate the grid reliably,” Vegas said. “We expect through the forecast and the likely scenarios that we’ll see over the course of this winter to be able to have enough supply to meet the reliability needs across the grid.”

But there are factors that ERCOT cannot control — such as how rapidly energy demand will increase or when new power generators will start operating in the state — that “have a pretty significant potential impact on the reliability of the grid,” he added.

To address those uncontrollable factors, Vegas said ERCOT and the utility commission must work “rapidly and clearly” to redesign the electricity market in Texas.

Multiple Texas lawmakers and energy industry analysts have expressed that they are unsure of how well potential changes presented by the PUC earlier this month would work.

The state utility commission will be taking public comments related to proposed market changes until noon on Dec. 15.

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