Mixed Signals for Texas Energy Crunch

Photo by Patrik Stollarz/Getty Images

The latest forecast from the folks behind the Texas grid is out today, and it shows an improving situation for power in the state, while also noting that we still have a way to go, particularly in times of extreme temperature and emergencies.

“The projected reserve margin for summer 2013 has dropped slightly since May, but we are seeing healthier reserve margins in future years,” Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) CEO Trip Doggett said in a statement. “Although peak demand is expected to grow less quickly than previous economic predictions indicated, we should continue to encourage new generation and develop more demand response options to reduce our electric use during periods of highest use — the hottest hours of the hottest days of summer.”

The number people across the state are watching is known as the reserve margin. That’s the amount of excess power available to the grid on top of what’s generated to meet demand. The grid’s target is 13.75 percent excess power over peak demand. But the new report says that the reserve margin won’t meet that target as early as next summer. It will drop to just over ten percent by 2014, and continue to go down in the future, to less than three percent in 2022.

The reserve margin matters because when things get iffy on the Texas grid — during extreme heat, power plant shutdowns or even a cold snap — that excess power is what prevents rolling blackouts. In February 2011, extreme cold weather caused some coal power plants to shutdown and the grid went through rolling blackouts, with some homes and businesses losing power for over eight hours.

The long-term outlook for the reserve margin is a slight improvement over the previous forecast ERCOT put out in May.

ERCOT notes more generation is expected to be added in the future, but “those projects have not yet acquired the level of certainty required to be included in this report,” ERCOT Director of System Planning Warren Lasher stated in a press release accompanying the report.

 

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