Record power use less likely today, conservation urged *update 2*


Texas’ main electric power grid manager started the day off Monday waving red warning flags over another day of possible record power demand, but that fear eased slowly over the course of the day.

Some surprise rain showers in North Texas may have helped keep power demand in check, with peak demand now expected to come in well below the current record of 68,294 megawatts, set on Aug. 3.

But the Electric Reliability Council of Texas is still urging conservation between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Tuesday as well.

A key factor in whether the state enters its four-step power emergency process is how many power plants are offline for unplanned maintenance. On days when that’s been been close to 5,000 megawatts the Level 1 emergencies are most likely.

ERCOT spokeswoman Theresa Gage said today (Monday) it looks like 4,300 MW are offline for unplanned maintenance.

Saturday and Sunday were record-breaking days for weekend energy consumption, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, with 65,100 megawatts used on Saturday and 65,159 megawatts on Sunday.

The intense, pavement-buckling heat matched our previous all-time record. There may be relief in sight by the end of the week, but Monday and Tuesday are going to be brutal.

On Saturday ERCOT came very close to declaring a Level 1 emergency — something it’s done repeatedly this summer — where it starts to draw power from neighboring grids.

Fewer power plants tend to be availabe during weekends as they try to come offline to handle maintenance problems that arise during the week.

Three of the four mothballed power plants that ERCOT has brought back online for the summer crisis were in service this weekend, with Unit 2 of NRG Energy’s S.R. Bertron power plant in Deer Park coming online Saturday. That 146 megawatt unit may have been just enough to avoid the Level 1 emergency.

A megawatt is enough to power about 200 Texas homes during the summer months, when air conditioning use is at its peak, according to ERCOT.

You’ve been seeing them all summer, but please take a look at the conservation tips again:

  • Turn off all unnecessary lights, appliances, and electronic equipment.
  • When at home, close blinds and drapes that get direct sun, set air conditioning thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, and use fans in occupied rooms to make it feel cooler.
  • 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 PM to 7 PM.
  • 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.

You can track the ever-changing current demand and expected peak at the ERCOT web site throughout the day, or you can look at this web site where ERCOT posts notices of operations problems, (if you can decipher the messages).

If you really want to scare yourself look at this ERCOT site that shows wholesale power prices every 15 minutes. Usually the price per megawatt-hour is under $40 or so, but it can get as high as $3,001 per MWH during the peak demand hours when the grid is closest to the breaking point. If you were to buy power for your home under those conditions you’d be paying $3 per kilowatt-hour.