Texas is sweltering, and majority of power plants down produce natural gas

Texas has been hit by a heatwave, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has asked residents to reduce electricity use until Friday because demand is up, but power supply is down. ERCOT stated yesterday, “Generator owners have reported approximately 11,000 MW [megawatts] of generation is on forced outage for repairs; of that, approximately 8,000 MW is thermal, and the rest is intermittent resources.” “Thermal” power in Texas largely refers to natural gas-fired power plants, which make up around 50% of annual energy production in Texas.

According to the summer Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy, ERCOT continues, a typical range of thermal generation outages on hot summer days is around 3,600 MW. 1 MW powers around 200 homes. So with 11,000 MW currently down, that means a shortage of power generation for the equivalent of 2.2 million homes.

The Texas Tribune reports:

ERCOT officials said the power plant outages were unexpected — and could not provide details as to what could be causing them.

“I don’t have any potential reasons [for the plant outages] that I can share at this time,” said Warren Lasher, ERCOT senior director of systems planning, during a Monday call with media. “It is not consistent with fleet performance that we have seen over the last few summers.”

The number of plants that were forced offline today is “very concerning,” Lasher said.

“We operate the grid with the resources that we have available,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of the generators to make sure their plants are available when demand is high.”

But ERCOT doesn’t pay operators to keep power generation ready for emergencies.

ERCOT says it’s unlikely to implement blackouts at this time. Austin and Dallas are looking at temperatures of the high 90s F this week, and Houston is forecast for highs of mid-90s F. ERCOT is asking residents to keep air conditioning temperatures above 78F and not run any non-essential appliances.

Texas is the only state in the continental US with an independent, isolated grid, so it can’t draw power from other states in an emergency. Texas is also the largest energy-producing and energy-consuming state in the US.

Electrek’s Take

The finger-pointing is already starting, with the ERCOT official saying it’s the generators’ responsibility to keep their power plants online and that ERCOT doesn’t know why the failures are occurring. The tweet above implies that ERCOT may know more tomorrow.

But as we noted before, the state doesn’t pay operators to be on standby to supply power during severe weather events. Simply put, operators aren’t incentivized to do it.

Because we cover green energy, we want to note now, after the wind farm blame game that occurred during Texas’ big freeze, that it’s natural gas – once again – that is currently making up the bulk of offline power.

So if Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX) tries to blame wind again, we know that’s not the case. ERCOT said in its press release that wind output was lower yesterday than usual and is expected to increase as the week progresses, but interestingly, it didn’t identify “thermal” as natural gas.

In the meantime, potential outages aren’t funny at all, but we are amused by the number of Texans on Twitter who are complaining about the prospect of having to set their air conditioning to 78F. That’s the standard summer recommended temperature by the US Department of Energy. (My thermostat is set at either 78F or 80F in Florida during the warm seasons, and it’s perfectly comfortable.)

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in White River Junction, Vermont. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at michelle@9to5mac.com. Check out her personal blog.