Power demand in Texas hits winter record amid sub-freezing temperatures

HOUSTON — Demand for electricity in Texas on Tuesday morning set a winter record of 57,277 megawatts in the hour ending at 8 a.m., based on preliminary operations data from the state’s grid manager.

The previous winter record demand of 57,265 megawatts occurred on Feb. 10, 2011, days after the state’s last rolling blackouts in winter or summer.

Temperatures plunged well below freezing early Tuesday, but did not threaten the power system, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates most of the state grid. ERCOT discontinued a conservation alert originally issued on Monday morning, even though Tuesday morning’s demand was higher.

“Right now, we don’t anticipate any grid problems in the immediate future,” said Robbie Searcy, a spokeswoman for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

By 2 p.m., Houston temperatures had climbed to 46 degrees, up from 28 earlier in the morning.
Additional generation available Tuesday morning pushed overall capacity up to about 64,000 megawatts, providing a safe margin.

The grid operator issued no new power emergency alerts Tuesday, indicating that the system met the record demand a day after freezing temperatures and power plant problems nearly forced rolling blackouts.

“We appreciate the consumer response to our conservation request yesterday, as well as the steps generation and transmission companies in the ERCOT region have taken to prepare for today’s power needs,” said Dan Woodfin, the agency’s director of system operations.

The unexpected loss of two North Texas plants Sunday night had prompted the Electric Reliability Council  to issue an emergency alert, borrow some power from other grids, and ask  consumers to take extra conservation measures. Around 7 a.m. on Monday, wholesale electricity prices soared above a state-mandated cap for nearly an hour, an indication that the system was nearing its limits.

“We were close,” said Dan Woodfin, ERCOT director of system operations, explaining that if one more power plant had been forced to shut down Monday, it would have triggered rolling black outs.

The two plants are now back online.

The wind that made the blue norther seem even chillier turned out to be more friend than foe in the power crisis.  Spinning turbines provided a critical 1,500 megawatts of power as early morning demand of 55,487 megawatts approached the 56,000 megawatts of generation capacity available then.

The two large plants that  went offline early Monday reduced available capacity by 1,700 megawatts,  causing grid operators to use conservation measures to reduce the demand, as well as tapping into both internal reserves and available power from the East Coast and Mexico.

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