ERCOT looking for ways to keep lights for the summer, future

As the warm Texas summer months loom, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas is searching for ways to keep the lights on through this summer and in the future.

ERCOT, which serves 23 million people across Texas, said earlier this month that it plans to bring back 2,000 megawatts of power from idle plants to meet the growing demand in Texas.

Even with that extra generation, the state’s grid operator says there is a “significant chance” that it will have to issue multiple emergency alerts, asking consumers to conserve power during peak hours.

ERCOT doesn’t expect to issue rolling blackouts this summer. The grid operator believes the 74,000 megawatts of generation is adequate to meet the estimated demand of nearly 67,500.

However, the caveat to that prediction is unplanned power plant outages.

In fact, ERCOT had a very optimistic, very similar viewpoint of the summer during May 2011.

“We expect to have enough generation resources to exceed peak demand by 17.5 percent this summer – surpassing the 13.75 percent threshold set by ERCOT for reliable operation of the electric grid in case of major outages or unusual temperatures extreme,” said Kent Saathoff, vice president of grid operations and system planning.

However, the drought conditions and the extreme temperatures were the worst that ERCOT had predicted.

ERCOT slogged its way through record-high temperatures and drought conditions that forced at least one North Texas plant to reduce its power generation because water in its cooling reservoir fell significantly.

But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration isn’t expecting an encore. Texas is expected to be notably cooler than last year after posting the hottest summer of any state in 2011.

The other good news is the Public Utility Commission is working on ways to deal with the recent tight supplies of Texas’ deregulated electrical grid.

PUC is working on two proposals to entice companies to build new power plants. The first would raise the cap on wholesale electricity prices from $2,000 a megawatt-hour to $4,500 a megawatt-hour.

The second would raise the cap to $5,000 per megawatt-hour in June 2013 and the cap would gradually increase to $9,000 per megawatt-hour until June 2015.

Both proposals are a bit of bad news, good news for consumers.

A higher cap likely means power generation should increase and more stability should be brought to the grid, but the higher prices might also trickle down to consumers.

So at the end of the day, would you want to pay more to keep your lights on or pay less and deal with possible blackouts?