Continued blackouts are possible in Texas amid record energy consumption

AUSTIN, TX – A new record for peak winter electricity demand was set Sunday night as residents blasted their heaters in an attempt to stay warm amid an arctic blast across the state – which has prompted calls for reduced usage and the potential for rotating outages in the coming days.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) said the new record hit 69,150 megawatts between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. as temperatures dropped into the single digits across much of Texas – more than 3,200 megawatts higher than the previous winter peak established in January 2018.

“We are experiencing record high electrical demand due to extremely cold temperatures that have gripped Texas,” ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness said in a prepared statement. “At the same time, we are facing higher than normal generation outages due to frozen wind turbines and limited natural gas supply available for generating units. We are asking Texans to take simple steps and safe to reduce their energy consumption during this period.

The Austin-based ERCOT manages the flow of electrical power on the Texas Interconnect that powers more than 25 million Texas customers, representing 90% of the state’s electrical load, according to its website.

While Texas residents buy their electricity from utility companies, cooperatives or cities, the nonprofit ERCOT works with suppliers to manage the flow of electricity to the lion’s share of the state.

With demand close to exceeding demand, authorities have urged residents to reduce their electricity consumption as much as possible. The authorities have issued some advice to reduce electricity consumption:

  • Lower the thermostats to 68 degrees.
  • Close blinds and shades to reduce the amount of heat lost through windows.
  • Turn off and unplug non-essential lights and appliances.
  • Avoid using large household appliances (i.e. ovens, washing machines, etc.).
  • Businesses should minimize the use of electric lighting and power-consuming equipment as much as possible.
  • Large electricity consumers should consider shutting down or reducing non-essential generation processes.

Although a last resort, continuous blackouts could be implemented Monday and Tuesday to control usage, said Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations for ERCOT. “If the additional resources available during an EEE [energy emergency alert] (are) still not enough to balance production and load, and we still don’t have enough resources to meet demand, so we might have to implement what’s called rolling interrupts… so that we let’s have enough resources to cover what’s left,” Woodfin said, as quoted by the Texas Tribune.

But ERCOT would exhaust other steps before such action is taken, such as importing power from other regions, requesting additional power from transmission companies, or releasing generation reserves under alerts. level one, level two, or level three energy emergency, as the Texas Tribune reported.

Yet in the capital city of Austin, such rotating blackouts needed to be implemented to ease the strain on the power grid. Early Monday, officials said in a notice that the Austin-Travis County Emergency Operations Center would send an emergency message through Warn Central Texas to alert the public that rotating power outages are needed.

Such outages would last between 10 and 40 minutes, Austin Energy officials wrote on Twitter.

The emergency message alerting to deployment outages will be sent via text and email to all Warn Central Texas subscribers in Austin-Travis County in English and Spanish. The message reads: “Due to record high electricity demand, the Texas Electric Grid Operator is ordering rotating outages to protect the reliability of the electrical grid. Outages typically last 40 minutes or less. The duration and frequency depend on the severity of the event. Be prepared for possible power interruptions due to mandatory rotation outages.”

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Austin officials said the first alert was sent 30 minutes after the advisory, which was issued at 1:32 a.m. Monday. Strong demand was exemplified by power outages affecting thousands of utility customers. The Pedernales Electric Cooperative said more than 1,000 customers were without power on Sunday evening.

Austin Energy officials have also called for conservation after reporting tens of thousands of people without power in recent days and just over 1,000 on Sunday.

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