Almost three months after the fact, officials at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) admitted late last week that the manager of the Texas power grid did indeed cut off power to many key natural gas infrastructure segments during February’s arctic freeze event that blacked out power to millions of Texas homes and businesses.
A report in the Houston Chronicle on Saturday noted that “ERCOT confirmed that it forced dozens of natural gas facilities to go offline during the February winter storm under a program that pays large industrial users to shut down when electricity supplies are short.” In a transparent effort to downplay ERCOT’s admission, the Chronicle’s writers go on to note that “There are thousands of oil and gas facilities in Texas. These contractual outages affected a small portion of them.”
But this admission by ERCOT comes two week after analysts at Enverus issued a report that found that 65% of the natural gas-related outages during the February freeze event were related to the fact that their supply of electricity was cut off to them. Thus, while it may be accurate to say that ERCOT shut off power to a “small portion” of the state’s thousands of natural gas infrastructure facilities, the facilities that lost power were obviously crucial to keeping electricity flowing to Texans’ homes.
Regardless of how the media tries to cover for ERCOT, this is a stunning admission by the entity that is charged with ensuring that the Texas power grid remains “reliable.”
In light of all of that, and in light of the fact that ERCOT almost was forced to declare a capacity emergency during two extremely mild weather days in April, Texans might find it difficult to trust another statement by the grid manager last week. This one assured Texans that the grid will have plenty of capacity to meet demand even on the highest-demand days this coming summer, despite the fact that the grid was clearly shown to be woefully short of needed baseload capacity in February and April.
The Dallas Morning News quotes one senior ERCOT official, Warren Lasher, ERCOT’s senior director of system planning, assuring us that all is well:
“In three of the four primary scenarios, we expect to meet peak customer demands while maintaining normal operating conditions,” Lasher said. “Only in the fourth primary scenario, which reflects the potential for very low wind generation output on the peak summer day — only in that scenario would we expect to have to enter emergency conditions in order to maintain reliability while meeting peak demand.”
Ok, so, if the wind stops blowing in West Texas – which it does on a regular basis, even during the summer months – then ERCOT will presumably issue a release saying, in effect, ‘Houston, we have a problem,’ right?
Right. This is why we call it ‘intermittent’ power.
This seems a pretty good time to note that the main reason why ERCOT had to issue an emergency conservation warning to customers on April 13 was that, while their computer models anticipated that wind would supply 11 megawatts of power that afternoon when demand peaked on the system, the wind stopped blowing and wind power was only able to provide 6 MW that day.
If Texans truly do have to rely on ERCOT’s ability to predict whether or not the wind will be blowing during July and August, we are well and truly screwed.
What this all points to is the pressing need to add more reserve baseload capacity to the Texas power grid. Yet, it appears that the Texas legislature will likely succumb to the lobbying power of the power generator community and do nothing to mandate that that happen.
So, best advice, if you live in the 85% or so of Texas that is covered by the ERCOT-managed grid, you might want to either install a pool in your backyard or stock up on those cute little hand fans in order to try to keep cool on peak demand days this July and August.