Update: At some point Friday morning, the conservation alert was canceled. ERCOT says there have been localized outages, but they weren’t related to “overall grid conditions.”
Original story: The group that operates much of the Texas electric grid is calling on people to conserve energy. Electric use is getting close to setting a new winter record because of the cold weather, but that’s not the only reason grid operators are worried.
While summer is usually the time when supplies can be stretched thin in the state, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has already declared two energy emergency alerts already this winter. In those cases the cause wasn’t just electric demand, it was because power plants went offline when the grid needed them most. Cold weather can cause mechanical failures that shut plants down, and that’s one thing grid operators worry might happen again.
There’s also the possibility of a fuel shortage for power plants. “There are some limitations to the natural gas supplies that are occurring due to high gas demands in some other parts of the country, so we are seeing that affect some generation capacity here in the ERCOT region,” says Robbie Searcy, a spokesperson for ERCOT. Texas is the largest producer of natural gas in the country. More information on the shortage wasn’t available from the agency.
ERCOT is asking Texans to conserve power starting today until noon tomorrow according to a news release. However, on their website, a different time period was listed, which may cause confusion. During a previous conservation alert this January when a power plant went offline and the grid saw similar issues, ERCOT had people scratching their heads when they used a notice for summer conditions, asking people to turn their thermostats up to 78 degrees.
“Some of the emailed alerts asked customers to raise thermostat settings to 78 degrees, typically a summer response intended to reduce demand from air conditioners,” the Houston Chronicle wrote at the time. “Searcy [of ERCOT] said the automated alerts contained a summer message, and that the agency is working to correct its messaging system.” ERCOT says the issues with the messaging system have been resolved.