Power conservation urged this afternoon as Texas tops usage record

Texas’ main electric grid operator is asking consumers to conserve power this afternoon between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. as high temperatures squeeze power generation capacity.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas asks customers to turn off unneeded lighting and other equipment and to hold off on running appliances such as washing machines until later in the evening. 

“The ERCOT region is continuing to experience record high temperatures throughout the state, which is causing high electricity usage,” said Kent Saathoff, ERCOT’s vice president of system planning and operations.  “At this time, we expect to be tight over the peak hours today between 4-5 p.m., which means that significant generation outages could make us short of operating reserves.”

A large power plant capable of generating 600 megawatts of power went off line unexpectedly earlier this morning, ERCOT said, but the plant didn’t come back on line as quickly as hoped.

As of 5 p.m. the ERCOT system demand was 66,925 megawatts — above the all-time record of 65,776 MW that occurred Aug. 23, 2010. Peak usage usually occurs around 5 p.m. most days, so hitting this peak so early in the day is a bit surprising.

This is the third conservation warning ERCOT has called this summer, including a June 27 warning and another on July 14, when about 3,800 megawatts of power plant capacity went offline unexpectedly earlier in the day.

Texas is in the midst of an above-average summer, both in temperatures and a lack of rainfall.

If the daily operating reserves drop below pre-set targets, ERCOT will initiate emergency procedures, starting with drawing capacity from neighboring grids — if any power is available — and having industrial customers turn off equipment as part of a pre-approved plan to reduce demand.

 ERCOT spokeswoman Dottie Roark said that as of 5 p.m. ERCOT did not need to call on power from neighboring grids or ask industrial customers to cut-off usage.

Rolling blackouts, like those ERCOT faced in February when extreme cold knocked dozens of power generators offline, are a last resort taken to avoid system-wide failures.

Recommended conservation measures include:

  • When at home, close blinds and drapes that get direct sun, set air conditioning thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, and use fans to cool the air.
  • When away from home, set air conditioning thermostats to 85 degrees and turn all fans off before you leave. Block the sun by closing blinds or drapes on windows that will get direct sun.
  • Do not use your dishwasher, laundry equipment, hair dryers, coffee makers, or other home appliances during the peak hours of 3 to 7 p.m.
  • Avoid opening refrigerators or freezers more than necessary.
  • Use microwaves for cooking instead of an electric range or oven.
  • Set your pool pump to run in the early morning or evening instead of the afternoon.