Texas feels first heat wave as power demand surges

DALLAS — The electric grid provider for most of Texas on Tuesday urged businesses and residents to conserve energy this summer as the state’s first major heat wave of the year prompted record energy use for two straight days.

Cities across the state were again baking in triple-digit heat, a year after Texas endured the second hottest summer in U.S. history in a three-month stretch that forced multiple warnings for an overburdened energy grid.

Though temperatures were expected to dip back into the 90s late in the week, officials acknowledge more conservation will be needed for the next couple months if they are to handle electricity demand from most of the state’s 25 million residents.

“Summer is here in full swing,” said Robbie Searcy, a spokeswoman with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

The record-breaking temperatures were felt in Austin at 109 degrees, Houston at 105 and Victoria at 108. This prompted heavy power usage across the state as Texans tried to stay cool. ERCOT estimated statewide usage surpassed 66,500 megawatts for the first time this year Tuesday — a record for June and July. The number eclipsed a June record set Monday of 65,000 megawatts.

Although ERCOT predicted it would not need an emergency alert this week, the grid operator encouraged Texans to conserve energy by setting their air conditioners two to three degrees higher during peak consumption hours.

The National Weather Service issued heat advisories Monday and Tuesday as workers and residents across the state were adjusting to temperatures after enjoying a mild spring.

Lana Lander, who has owned Coastal Dreams Bed & Breakfast in Galveston for eight years, acknowledged it’s difficult to abide by ERCOT warnings and turn down air conditioning when customers expect to be comfortable while visiting the historic resort city.

“I don’t stress about advisories,” Lander said Tuesday, when temperatures in Galveston reached a record-breaking 97, toppling the 1875 record of 95 for June 26.

Ellen Whaley, owner of Coppersmith Inn Bed & Breakfast in Galveston, said she is not aware of ever receiving a conservation advisory. If she did, Whaley said, she would ask her guests to conserve energy. She does that now by asking customers to turn their individual air conditioning units down or off when they leave their rooms.

“Most people are pretty green-minded,” she said, adding that if a customer refused to honor the advisory she would prioritize business over energy conservation.

In Dallas, construction workers sweated in the sun while repairing roofs damaged by a hailstorm that pounded parts of the city two weeks ago.

Phillip Stanford, a salesman for Ron Smith Roofing in the suburb of Lake Dallas, said crews try to begin work as soon as the sun comes up, and many work until dusk. They wear head-to-toe clothing to stay cool and avoid sunburns.

“All of them are completely clothed,” said Stanford, sitting in his air-conditioned truck as he prepared to speak with a homeowner about repairs. “You have to keep your head covered, long sleeves, everything. Not just for sunburn, but the more sweaty you can get, the cooler you can be.”

The National Weather Service has offered one bit of good news for those struggling to endure the heat: Summer 2012 won’t approach last year’s scorching heat, though it will be a couple degrees higher than normal. Statewide average temperatures typically hover in the low 80s; last July-August the state averaged 86.5 degrees.

“Last summer was a black swan,” weather service spokesman Victor Murphy said. “It was a one-in-a-hundred-year summer. The odds of that happening again are near zero.”