Texas grid ready for summer heat, ERCOT says

The setting sun silhouettes electric transmission lines.   (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)
The setting sun silhouettes electric transmission lines. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)

The Texas power grid may get a break this summer, with relatively normal temperatures expected, according to state electricity planners.

“There probably will be some tight days when it will be especially hot, or when we have unexpected generation off line,” said Robbie Searcy, a spokeswoman for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the electric grid for most of the state. “We will probably ask you turn your thermostats up a couple of degrees for a few days. It sounds like a simple thing and it is.”

In order to ensure that there is a sufficient amount of electricity generated for high demand days, state planners try to ensure that there is sufficient excess capacity in the system, and have targeted 13.75 percent as the ideal margin for Texas. Recent hot summers, which are used to calculate the expected demand, have made it more challenging to ensure that this margin is maintained. The current reserve margin is 13.3 percent, which has raised concerns for planners.

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New plants coming online in 2014 should close the gap between current generation and desired capacity, said Warren Lasher, director of system planning for ERCOT.

“The Public Utility Commission and ERCOT have been working to revise some of the market rules and that appears to be having an impact on the availability of reserves,” Lasher said, explaining that several additional plants will be completed by next summer and are now being added to ERCOT’s expected generation for 2014.

“Most of the changes are the result of natural gas plants, but we are seeing significant activity in wind plants as well,” Lasher said. “The transmission lines are being completed at the end of this year in the Panhandle, opening up additional portions of Texas to the ERCOT market.”

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Weather patterns indicate that the conditions that led to the blazing summer of 2011 have not materialized this year, according to Chris Coleman, a meteorologist for The Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

“We don’t expect to come anywhere close to those 2011 extremes,” Coleman said, explaining that the summer to date has been hotter and drier than the expected weather for the second half of the summer.

But while the relatively cooler days will be a relief, the drought is continuing to worsen in the western part of the state, as well as in the Texas Panhandle and South Texas, both of which have severe drought conditions.

“We are going into the summer in worse shape than we did a year ago,” Coleman said.

The summer is also expected to be relatively hurricane free: Texas grid planners are anticipating that there will only be one storm severe enough to be named that will hit the Texas area.

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ERCOT assesses El Niño and El Niña conditions and patterns to predict the likelihood of future storms. El Niño conditions occur when the sea water temperatures rise in the surface water in the tropics; El Niña conditions take place when the temperatures are lower. El Niña conditions indicate a more active hurricane system, Coleman said. The weather patterns are currently neutral between the two conditions.

“It should be a fairly quiet season,” Coleman said.