Electricity providers urge conservation as high temps strain power grid

This stretch of brutal heat has pushed the state's electrical grid to issue conservation alerts.

Energy providers on Monday continued to ask customers to use less power to ease the strain on the grid. Last week was the closest the grid has been in years to rolling blackouts.

We avoided an emergency alert on Monday. But the amount of reserve energy available is tight. One local economist believes he knows what's causing it, and it's only going to get worse if nothing changes.

The hot summer days can be a boom for business at your neighborhood popsicle shop, but the electrical grid responsible for keeping the pops cool and your home's a/c running has been tested lately.

Last week on two different days, ERCOT issued an energy emergency alert. It asked people to dial down their energy usage or risk rolling blackouts. It's the first time an alert's been issued in five and a half years.

Bud Weinstein is associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute at SMU.

“I think we've had two consecutive summers of skating on thin ice,” he said.

Weinstein says more people moving to Texas paired with less fossil fuel energy have left electricity reserves tight. He says the state needs more baseload energy, plants which supply energy continuously, unlike wind.

“We grow very, very fast in Texas,” he said. “And we need more electricity, but we're not making the investment in baseload. We've only been investing in wind, and wind has its shortcomings.”

Weinstein says the state should introduce a new "capacity charge" to help keep baseload energy plants in the Texas grid.

“If we don't fix the status quo, we are going to be looking at rolling brownouts and maybe even blackouts in the summer of 2020. We just can't go on like this,” he said.

The changes would likely have to happen at the state level. It's not clear what appetite there is to do anything.

The next legislative session isn't until 2021. But Weinstein believes it needs to come up soon.     

Going back to March, ERCOT forecasted it would likely have to issue energy emergency alerts. Those alerts do give ERCOT power to interrupt some industrial and commercial customers’ power, among other tools meant to keep the grid healthy.