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The Texas grid is vulnerable to power outages during severe winter weather, even with new preparations, ERCOT estimates show




AUSTIN, Texas (The Texas Tribune) – A power outage in Texas could occur this winter if the state experiences a cold situation that forces many power plants offline while high demand for electricity is high, according to an analysis by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The power outages can occur despite better preparations from the power plants to operate in cold weather.

On its way into the winter, ERCOT assessed five extreme scenarios in a risk assessment of the state’s power supply. The grid operator estimates both how much power Texans is expected to require and how much power the power plant is expected to produce ahead of each season.

After the widespread power outages in February that left millions without power for several days, ERCOT changed these assessments to calculate what would happen if extreme conditions occurred at the same time ̵[ads1]1; as what happened this year.

The calculations show the power grid’s vulnerability to the cumulative effect of several pressures that can lead to the system lacking a significant amount of power. The electricity grid must at all times keep supply and demand in balance. When the grid of Texas falls below the safety margin of 2300 megawatts extra supply, ERCOT, the grid operator, begins to take additional measures to avoid power outages, such as asking residents to save power.

The calculations for serious risk this winter show that it would not require as bad a storm as the one in February, when hundreds of people died, to take the network offline.

The most serious scenario ERCOT has considered for this winter – very high demand for power, extensive outages of natural gas and other fossil fuels, and excessively low renewable power production – still does not capture the amount of power lost during February. For two days in February, Texas averaged 34,000 megawatts of power outages, according to a recent federal report on the crisis. ERCOT’s seasonal assessment for this winter estimates that the state may, in the worst case, have only around 10,000 to 19,000 megawatts total output at any one time, provided better power plant preparation for this winter as opposed to last.

“As part of our comprehensive planning, we have also reviewed a number of low-probability, high-impact scenarios,” said Chris Schein, a spokesman for ERCOT, in a statement. “Generators across the state have made improvements in power plant weathering.”

In October, regulators completed a rule that requires power plants to make “best efforts” to ensure plants can operate this winter, and requires them to fix “acute” problems from the February 2021 winter storm.

ERCOT also estimated that Texans would require at most around 73,000 megawatts of electricity at any given time, based on the weather from a decade ago in 2011 and economic forecasts for 2020. But during the power crisis in February, experts estimate that Texans needed around 77,000 megawatts to keep the power on.

“We have had years of poor planning of the summit [demand] by ERCOT, ”said Alison Silverstein, a Texas electricity system expert who previously worked for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Public Utility Commission of Texas. She spoke at a public event organized by the environmental group Sierra Club on Saturday. “ERCOT’s power market has historically been managed to minimize costs, not to ensure excellent reliability.”

Four of the five extreme risk scenarios ERCOT considered would allow the grid to shorten a significant amount of power, which would trigger power outages for residents.

The extreme scenarios have little chance of occurring, ERCOT emphasizes in its report, and the grid operator estimates more power production than last winter.

Under typical winter grid conditions, the ERCOT report said, there will be sufficient power available to serve the state.

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