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ERCOT: Texas Should Not Have Blackouts This Summer, Unless ...

Texas typically uses the most electricity in the heat of summer. That’s why, after February’s devastating blackouts and March’s unexpected call for electricity conservation, many have wondered how the state’s grid will fare heading into the hotter months.

Now, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas is out with its answer.

In its “Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy,” ERCOT says the state should get through the summer without any grid emergencies. But there are some caveats.

The assessment says Texas is going into the summer with a 15.7% electricity reserve margin. That number signifies the amount of energy available beyond what ERCOT expects the state will need on a peak day. It is higher than it has been in recent summers.

Warren Lasher, ERCOT’s senior director of system planning, said that should provide the state with a good buffer against an unexpected jump in electricity demand.

“I would also note that this increase in reserve margin has occurred while we continue to see increases in peak customer demand year on year,” he told reporters Thursday.

But, despite that added juice, ERCOT has identified a scenario where Texans could see a grid emergency: If extreme weather drives demand up right as electric generators stop being able to produce.

In other words, what happened in February.

“Then we may need to go into emergency operations,” Dan Woodfin ERCOT’s senior director of system operations, said.

ERCOT has traditionally planned its grid operations by trying to ensure Texas will be able to handle summer peak electricity demand. If demand and supply get out of whack, the group may need to mandate blackouts to balance the grid.

That has never happened in the summer, even though that’s when Texas uses the most juice. Of the four big ERCOT-mandated statewide blackouts since the group’s formation, two happened in February (we all remember the last one), one happened in December and one occurred in April.

But the catastrophic blackout this year has brought public confidence in ERCOT to a possible all-time low.

A near-miss with an energy emergency on a mild day last month further called into question the group’s ability to ensure grid reliability. ERCOT explained that incident by saying more power plants than usual were offline to prepare for the summer heat.

“I shudder to think what things would be [like] if we were actually having a heat wave,” Dan Cohan, a professor of environmental engineering at Rice University, said at the time.

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