Two Texas Power Plants Went Offline This Morning, Adding to Energy Emergency

ERCOT controls the power grid for about 23 million customers in Texas.

Photo by ERCOT

ERCOT controls the power grid for about 23 million customers in Texas.

At the heart of the energy emergency that brought Texas to the brink of rolling blackouts this morning was the failure of power plants to provide electricity when the state needed it, says the state grid operator. That included two plants in North Central Texas that suffered equipment failure caused by freezing weather.

In fact, the state saw higher electric demand during a cold spell last month, without going into an “energy emergency,” ERCOT Spokesperson Robbie Searcy said in a telephone news conference today.

The difference this time was that there was less power available.

“We lost about 3,700 megawatts of generation,” said Dan Woodfin, ERCOT’s Director of System Operations. “About half of that was weather-related and the remainder were due to non-weather-related issues.”

Woodfin said about 1,800 megawatts of lost power came from two large plants that were forced offline after some of their monitoring equipment froze.

“Probably if we had lost another unit it would have put us into an Energy Emergency Alert Three,” Woodfin said, referring to the level that would have prompted rolling blackouts.

Texas avoided blackouts this morning, but some large power users did have their electricity curtailed or shut off. Those are generally large industrial consumers who enter into contracts with ERCOT to power down in times of electric scarcity, in exchange for more favorable rates.

ERCOT also began pulling electricity from other grids.

“We were importing about 800 megawatts from the Eastern United states, and then about 180 megawatts form Mexico,” said Woodfin.

In 2011, Texas experienced rolling blackouts due to extremely cold weather that caused power plants to fail. Since then, ERCOT has encouraged more weatherization of plants. Woodfin says fewer plants failed today, but the two that did were “large plants.” He could not specify which plants because of competitive secrets rules that limit what information about power plants in Texas can be shared publicly.

The emergency also impacted wholesale electric prices on the spot market, which skyrocketed between around 6:00 and 7:30 AM, hitting the cap on wholesale electric prices.

Woodfin says that, as of this afternoon, the two plants that went offline this morning were operating again, and that it looks like there there will be enough power generation capacity this evening as temperatures drop and power use rises.

“If everything stays online, we should be OK for this afternoon’s peak. But it’s always possible that additional generation could trip offline for some reason,” said Woodfin. “And then we’re also expecting to have another peak in the morning, and so we’ll need all the generation to stay available for tomorrow morning’s peak, as well.”

ERCOT is encouraging Texans to conserve electricity while the cold weather persists.

ORIGINAL POST: 

Much of Texas came dangerously close to rolling blackouts this morning, as demand for electricity got close to outpacing the state electric grid’s supply. It’s the reasons behind that power crunch that grid operator ERCOT says it’s still trying to piece together.

Cold weather played a role, causing more and more people to crank up their heaters and pull power from the grid.

“During the cold weather, electric demand went very high, so situation conditions became tight,” ERCOT Spokesperson Robbie Searcy tells StateImpact Texas. ”The weather remains cold and we will continue to watch these conditions closely.”

But the cold weather was expected, what came as a surprise was the tightness on the supply end.

“My understanding is that there has been some generation challenges this morning,” Searcy says.

In 2011, Texas experienced rolling blackouts due to extremely cold weather causing power plants to fail.  The Dallas Morning News has also raised the question of whether some plants were closed for maintenance today, and were unable to supply power to the grid.

Searcy says ERCOT is “looking into” that possibilities.

“I don’t have a lot of information right now about what specifically has happened with some of the generation resources,” she tells StateImpact Texas. ”Our primary focus right now is on maintaining grid stability.”

Texas avoided blackouts this morning, but some large power users did have their electricity curtailed or shut off. Those are generally industrial consumers who enter into contracts with ERCOT to power down in times of electric scarcity in exchange for more favorable rates.

The second impact of the blackout warning? Wholesale electric prices on the spot market for power skyrocketed between around 6:00 and 7:30 AM.

ERCOT is warning Texans that power supplies may become tight again this evening as cold weather persists. The group is encouraging Texans to conserve.

 

 

Comments

  • MidBosque

    Thank you Mose. This is the best reporting I could find on this. Some TX media simply portrayed this as a demand-side crisis and gave no larger perspective.

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