Four days of Texas power emergencies, more expected next week.


For the fourth day in a row Texas’ power grid operators declared a Level 1 emergency as high energy demand collided with some 4,800 megawatts of unplanned power plant outages.

Friday’s power demand and the number of plants offline were down slightly from Thursday, however, when the state came close to initiating rolling blackouts for only the fourth time in 21 years.

The Level 1 declaration, the first stage of the state’s four-stage energy emergency system, was made at 3:10 p.m. when reserves drop below 2,300 MW.  

At Level 1, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas asks all available power plants to come online, begins drawing on power from neighboring grids, including Mexico, and asks consumers to cut back usage through 7 p.m.

By 5:30 p.m. it appeared the worst was over, however, as spot prices on ERCOT’s wholesale market fell from the market-ceiling price of $3,001 per megawatt-hour to around $835. During off peak hours the prices tend to be in the $24 range.

The Level 1 was officially cancelled at 6:10 p.m.

Many power plants are expected to go offline over the weekend to repair equipment that may have limited their output during the week.

Kent Saathoff, vice president of system planning and operations for ERCOT said the grid will likely face similar challenges next week.

In addition to heat-related equipment problems, at least one North Texas power plant is having problems because the reservoir it draws water from is not cooling sufficiently overnight. ERCOT wouldn’t identify which plant had that problem.

“I have never seen anything like it in my career, and it’s strictly due to the weather,” Saathoff said of the system-wide problems.

Some 4,800 megawatts of power plant capacity were offline for unplanned maintenance Friday, according to Saathoff. This including a 650 megawatt unit at Luminat’s Big Brown coal fired plant in Freestone County (which came back on by the afternoon) and another 615 megawatt coal fired unit.

On Thursday some 5,000 megawatts of power plant capacity were offline, more than 7 percent of the state’s total capacity, pushing the state to the verge of rolling blackouts. More mechanical breakdowns occur during prolonged periods of hot weather, according to power plant operators, as units tend to run for longer hours.

Peak demand was expected to reach 67,794 megawatts (as of a 1:25 p.m. projection) for Friday.

Thursday’s peak was just 66,815 MW between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., but subtracting the approximatley 1,500 MW of load that was dropped through two power management programs, the peak would have been more like a record-breaking (if not “grid-breaking”) 68,315 MW.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas — which oversees the high voltage distribution system for about 85 percent of the state — pulled in 1,033 MW of generation from neighboring grids on Thursday, including 230 MW from the Comisión Federal de Electricidad in Mexico. Wind power accounted for about 1,400 MW of supply during the peak hours.

Just as it did every day this week, ERCOT issued an alert shortly after midnight Friday saying the afternoon would likely see a tight margin between demand and available reserves.

 The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will waive pollution limits for power plants that are needed to come online during power emergencies, according to a notice from ERCOT:

“If/when increased demand is requested, the agency will exercise enforcement discretion for exceedances of emission limits as well as operational limits for power generating plants to ensure regulatory burdens do not contribute to the loss of critical power during this extraordinarily hot weather,” according to the statement.

In the past ERCOT has waived collateral requirements for retail electric providers — the amount of money or credit retailers must hold in reserve to guarentee they can pay their bills — most recently during the Feb. 2 cold-weather event that saw wholesale power prices spike.

Tom Fowler

21 Responses

  1. Insider says:

    West U Coog, you have it exactly right. Just because the load on the grid is reaching record limits and we are coming close to reaching our reserve margins, does not mean that there is a problem with the power industry in Texas. How about people take a step back and look at the other side of the coin and congratulate the power plant workers to the grid operators keeping the grid stable. A power plant is a very complicated machine. There are hundreds of thousands of parts in a plant that have to work just right to produce electricity. The failure of one tiny spring can shut down a power plant. It is not easy to keep a power plant running. This has been a record breaking week, a load demand Texas has never seen, and how has the grid fared in these conditions? It’s done great! No rolling outages, no blackouts. Instead of being negative and trying to poke holes in an industry you know little about, how about you be thankful that non of yall had to worry about your A/C not having electricity this week. Sheesh.

  2. David says:

    Robert, funny you should mention whale oil …. going back to wind as an industrial power source is at about the intellectual and technological equivalent of returning to whale oil. Wind is appropriate technology for filling a stock tank with water on a remote ranch, but is not much better than whale oil for a modern society. Our “modern” industrial wind farms don’t even rise to the level of the remote ranch, which at least has the stock tank to store and buffer the wind energy as pumped water. In that important sense, the industrial wind farms of today are using less sophisticated techniques than a 1930’s West Texas ranch.

  3. West U Coog says:

    Michelle, you mean the shortages California had because Enron manipulated a shortage so they could charge more? That one?

    BOB, again what the minuscule number of EVs have to do with our situation? NOTHING! You right wing nuts can’t think for yourselves is the problem. BTW EVs aren’t subsidized, they just offer a tax credit. The government doesn’t cut you a check for $7500. Its like getting a deduction when donating to your church. Or is that a subsidy too?

    By the posts on here, right wingers sure don’t sound to smart.

    It’s the weather, not the lack of power plants.

  4. GAPlatt says:

    WAIT!! The space aliens ARE behind all this. Here’s the latest message from ERCOT:
    There has been a Geomagnetic Disturbance of K-8 magnitude alert issued until 08:43 on 8-6-11

    I never cease to be absolutely amazed at the level of ignorance regarding something that is so important to the daily lives of practically every Texan. Y’all have a good weekend!

  5. okstate says:


    TOO Funny. And as if right on cue……enter BOB!

    For David: is reporting ERCOT is demanding an explanation from God for not delivering the “fuel” for the wind turbines. Gov. Perry suspects liberals and illegal aliens have joined forces with God just to screw with his “prayer rally”.
    (End sarcasm here)

  6. David says:

    Robert, wind is not generating “14% of our consumed power”, it is generating about 1400/67794 = about 2% of our conusmed power (according to Tom’s figures above).
    The 14% is the percentage generated out of the total wind power “capacity” that we supposedly have in the state of Texas. In other words, the wind industry is providing only 14% of what they claim is their capacity.

  7. michelle says:

    Gee…you think maybe NRG shouldn’t have shut down all the power plants they bought from Centerpoint? Did we learn NOTHING from California and its rolling brownouts a few years back? More people, more demand, = more plants, not less.
    And it’s gonna get worse when the STNP goes off line for two days later on this month!

  8. Robert says:

    Pulling power from Mexico’s grid to supplement our own? I’m surprised no one has yet complained about how they’re stealing our power generation jobs…

    As for the people complaining that Wind Power isn’t working since it’s only generating 14% of our consumed power, do you not realize the amount of other agricultural resources we’re saving? Should we just send subsidies to save pecan groves that are going to die off anyway? Or do we begin to implement the wind energy to save the crops since the trees don’t die from coal plant emissions? Not to mention that while the Middle East wound up with vast oil reserves, North America got lots of radioactive materials. Radon exposure being one of the worst as it’s spread through coal-burning power plants since scrubbers can’t filter it out.

    As for Wind Power and other renewable resources, it’s in the beginning stages. I swear 150 years ago you’d all be complaining just as much against coal and petroleum and would rather have kept hunting whales than expand our coal and petroleum infrastructure. But we ignored you then, and look how far we came. Well it’s time to change again and now we have to do the same thing with other methods. It’s not about saving the environment as much as it IS about maintaining our way of life.

  9. BOB says:

    Don’t forget to plug in your Commie Obama government Motors that you subsidize 7500 dollars per car and give the union members 4300 dollars in bonuses. – so this year you gave them 11,800 dollars.

    It will be nice to see our electric rates soar as President Obama keeps his promise of soaring energy prices – he promised and i want that. See this will hurt all of the poor people he purports to help. Those on food stamps retirees illegals welfare folks and anyone on government supplements. These people will be hurt worst by soring energy prices he promises. It is on goggle where he promised look it up if ya think i am lying.

  10. Pat says:

    What about Obama, nobody has invoked his name yet?


  11. MrOldMan says:

    I don’t know how much money a power company has to make to make it “worthwhile” to build a new plant, but I’d sure like to have one. I doubt seriously if ANY power plant is losing money. That considered, it seems ridiculous that in a time of shortages and rising demand, we don’t have enough capacity. This isn’t rocket science… Build more power plants, problem solved.

  12. Me says:

    Not just illegal aliens, but space aliens, too. I saw those Klingons with their A/C down low! Lol.

  13. MissAnnabel says:

    Just think, if we didn’t have millions of illegal aliens, how much power wouldn’t be used right now. You can bet they have their thermostats cranked down as low as possible to keep cool, while us tax payers are trying to get by set at 85 degrees to try to help. We usually keep the thermostat set at 78, but I raised it to try to help with the problem. It sure is hot in here and with not using lights either, its dreary but there are those of us who are responsible and are doing what we can.

    • Tom Fowler says:

      I was wondering when someone was going to bring illegal aliens into this comment stream.

  14. David says:

    One more thing ….. if 85% of the coal or natural gas plants were not receiving the coal or natural gas needed to operate, you would be reporting that 85% of these plants were “offline” due to a lack of fuel.
    It would make front page headlines.
    Why don’t we see front page headlines reporting that 85% of the state’s wind power was offline today due to not receiving their “fuel” supplies ?

  15. David says:

    Tom, it is just the opposite. If we took away the corruption of government requirements for renewable energy forcing the money now spent on wind farms and hundreds of miles of new tranmission lines to bring the energy from W. Texas, there would be lots of money to be made on gas units. And the overall price of our power would be lower and our reliab ility much higher. At the times we really need it, like this, wind power is vastly more expensive per unit of actual output, and overall it cannot be counted on at anywheree near the level of natural gas. At times like these wed see how pathetic industrial wind really is for meeting the needs of Texas – 14% !

  16. ksteeler says:

    Could you go into a little more detail about the unplanned maintenance that keeps happening? Thanks.

  17. Historianess says:

    Tom, is there any particular reason that these big coal-fired plants keep shutting down? Is it just that demand is taxing them? I’m asking because I’m wondering if there are long-term maintenance issues that are being ignored.

  18. David says:

    Tom, Wikipedia says that Texas’ installed wind capacity is 9727 MW.
    You say that yesterday during the peak wind was supplying 1400 MW.
    That is about 14% of installed capacity.
    What other source of supply is running as low as 14% ?
    Not only are we overpaying for the wind energy, it is underperforming.
    We probably would not have the margin problems if all of that money were spent on natural gas plants instead.

    • Tom Fowler says:

      Wind is never at its peak performance during the hours of peak demand during the day (although I’ve been told coastal and offshore wind farms have their peak output closer to the midday when demand is at its peak). In Texas they only count a percentage of wind toward the total reserves, but as operators have gotten better at predicting the availability of wind that percentage has increased.

      But I think the rule of thumb has been you need .75 or .85 megawatts of gas generation for every megawatt of wind power to assure reliability.

      I don’t know if our power margin problem would be all that different if we had less wind, however. ERCOT is planning ahead and saying “we should get 2000MW of wind today” and only 1400 shows up. Wind has actually been coming trhough more than expected for the most part this week.

      Companies build power plants if they believe they can make money on them. If there was money to be made on a gas unit, it would have been built.

  19. Ron Renkoski says:

    Way back in the 70s, the Member-owned Rural Electric Cooperatives in Missouri initiated their Peak Alert system. On hot sunny afternoons and whenever electric power consumption/demand is forecast to approach record PEAK demand, the employees of those Cooperatives have the local TV and radio broadcast Peak Alerts to remind the members to cut back on power usage – to delay laundry & dish washing, hot showers & hair driers, electric stoves, toasters, welders, irrigation systems, TVs, VCRs, stereos, holiday lights until after dark.
    Let’s educate and encourage all electric power users to cut down during PEAK demand hours. If you will cooperate and cut out just half of the power wasted on hot, sunny afternoons and a few very cold hours, we can save ourselves and our neighbors from many millions of dollars of excessive electric bills due to excessive construction projects. How ? Close the drapes, & plant shade trees, grapes, morning glories and sunflowers to shade west and east facing windows. On the hottest summer days, hang white table cloths or sheets over the OUTSIDE of west facing windows. Use shallow ground-water & lake water for direct cooling of buildings, without Freon and electricity–gluttonous compressors. Close the doors & HVAC vests in rooms that are NOT currently being used. Ron7