Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Will the Lights Stay On in Texas?

Photo by Dave Einsel/Getty Images

Two new reports were released today by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the state’s power grid. The reports look at both the upcoming winter in Texas as well as a ten-year outlook and what sort of risks are in store for the energy grid.

In both cases, the outlook is not good. This winter the grid could find itself strained again as it did during the blackouts earlier this year. “Our assessment indicates a concern if we experience a simultaneous occurrence of extreme weather and worst-case generation outages, much like February of this year,” Trip Doggett, the CEO of ERCOT, said in a release accompanying the reports.

And in the next ten years, the state will find itself with less power and more demand. Starting next summer, the state’s reserves to avoid outages “will likely fall below the minimum target beginning next summer.” This number is known as the “reserve margin.” It’s ERCOT’s extra capacity to handle peak times of energy demand avoid outages.

“We are very concerned about the significant drop in the reserve margin,” Doggett said in a release accompanying the report.  “If we stay in the current cycle of hot and dry summers, we will be very tight on capacity next summer and have a repeat of this year’s emergency procedures and conservation appeals.”

The specifics? ERCOT says that because of delays in building power plants and the closure of others, by the summer of 2012 there will be a decrease of 2,600 MW of available power, which is about four percent of ERCOT’s projected power needs.

For both this winter, next summer, and beyond, ERCOT found that even as the state’s energy resources increase, demand is growing at such a rate that it cannot keep up with it. Take a look at these numbers showing projected demand vs. resources. Keep in mind these load forecasts are for “normal weather:”

Capacity, Demand and Reserves in the ERCOT Region







Summer firm load forecast, normal weather (MW) 64,618 65,428





Resources (MW)    72,444    73,327





Reserve margin (13.75% minimum target) 12.1% 12.1%





Change since May Capacity, Demand and Reserves Report 5.4 2.2





As the reserve margin is shrinking so quickly under “normal” conditions, what happens if the drought continues? “We will continue to monitor the ongoing drought and how it’s affecting capacity due to its impact on cooling water resources available for generation units,” Doggett said in the release. The report estimates that about seventeen percent of ERCOT’s power generation relies on “water sources that are at historically low levels due to the ongoing drought totals.”

ERCOT doesn’t handle power for the entire state, just for about 85 percent of Texas. The council says the region covered by ERCOT includes 23 million people. “ERCOT does not include the El Paso area, the Texas Panhandle, Northeast Texas and Southeast Texas,” the report notes.

So what is ERCOT doing to address the problem? The council is holding a press call later this afternoon, and StateImpact Texas will be reporting more at that time.


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