NRG Energy plans to fire up the mothballed SR Bertron natural gas-fired generation plant to help meet the growing electricity need as the Texas summer heats up.
The plant, near Deer Park, Texas, had been in mothball status since last summer and required about 45 days of preparations to return online.
The SR Bertron plant, comprising four units built in the late 1950s and early 1960s, can generate about 750 megawatts – additional capacity that NRG expects to add to the grid on the hottest days of the summer, when demand typically peaks. One megawatt can serve about 200 typical Texas homes during hot summer weather.
“They will be available all summer and will most likely run on the hottest days, when the temperatures rise above 90 degrees,” said John Ragan, an executive vice president for the Gulf Coast region for NRG. “These are plants from the 1950s and we want to have them available for when the need is really there.”
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees the grid for most of Texas, has predicted that reserves may be tight this summer. Grid planners set a 13.75 percent target reserve margin to ensure the system’s reliability even in peak use conditions, but estimate that the summer’s capacity will be about 13.2 percent, even with NRG’s added capacity.
But power emergency alerts still are likely on some of the hottest days this summer.
“We are expecting above-normal temperatures throughout summer in most areas of the ERCOT region,” said Kent Saathoff, an ERCOT executive adviser who has overseen various aspects of grid operations and system planning for several decades. “To help ensure there is enough generation to serve consumer needs, we likely will ask people to conserve power during the hottest hours of the hottest days.”
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Ragan estimates that the SR Bertron units could be be used for as little as 500 hours during the summer’s peak, even though the costs associated with the needed maintenance to prepare the units ran into the multiple millions.
“It is a significant investment on our part, both because of the capital investment and the full- time staff required at these plants,” Ragan said. “One thing we face is the increased cost of maintenance of these plants. It is difficult for us to justify putting money into plants that run so infrequently. The newer plants that are more emission-friendly and faster to start are really way of the future, rather than depending on plants that are past their mechanical lifespan.”
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