Texas grid can handle winter power demand, ERCOT says

Texas grid planners said Tuesday that the state’s power system is well prepared to handle extreme weather through the coming winter.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the grid for most of Texas, estimates that 74,000 megawatts of power generation will be available in the fall to feed 47,000 megawatts of anticipated peak demand in October and November. From December to February, 75,000 megawatts of generation will be available for a peak demand of 48,000 megawatts, ERCOT said.

“The system appears to be well-prepared for fall electric needs, and that outlook continues into the coming winter months,” said Warren Lasher, ERCOT’s director of system planning.

The forecast is part of ERCOT’s final fall and preliminary winter seasonal assessments of resource adequacy. It is more optimistic than last year’s fall forecast, when planners expressed greater concern about long-term capacity.

Although Texas demand typically peaks on hot summer afternoons, rolling blackouts ordered when unseasonable cold knocked some power plants offline on Feb. 2, 2011 demonstrated the year-round potential for pressure on the system.

The peak power demand so far this summer was about 67,000 megawatts on Aug. 7. The all-time high occurred on Aug. 3, 2011 when demand hit 68,305 megawatts.

One megawatt is enough electricity to power about 200 homes when demand for electricity is highest, during the hottest days of the year.

The fall-winter forecast comes as the regulators continue to discuss whether the state has adequate capacity in the grid to make it reliable under extreme conditions.

The Electric Reliability Council’s target is to maintain generating capacity 13.75 percent higher than estimated peak demand.

The Public Utility Commission discussed capacity  issues at its most recent meeting last Thursday, but postponed until an unspecified future date discussion of any changes to the state’s grid design.

“I want to make sure that whatever we do does not exacerbate any situation that we already have,” said Public Utility Commission Chairwoman Donna Nelson at the meeting.

In a conference call with media Tuesday to discuss the fall-winter projections, Electric Reliability Council planners  said that Texas’ population growth may not be increasing power demand as rapidly as expected because of market incentives to conserve power.

“We are looking at ways to better reflect market conditions,” said Warren Lasher, the council’s  director of system planning. Lasher said the grid planners will use updated methods for a demand forecast due in December. “It is something that takes a little while to sort out,” he said.

Grid planners have also noted that the drought, which began in October 2010, may impact power supply in the future but is not expected to have an impact in the fall or winter of the coming year.

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Grid girds for summer onslaught