ERCOT, PUC express confidence in Texas' power grid heading into summer

At a press conference on Tuesday, the heads of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) expressed confidence in the state’s power grid heading into the summer.

"This grid is more reliable than it has ever been before," said PUC Chair Peter Lake.

The confident words came despite the events of this past Friday, when six generators tripped offline.

"We were surprised by several generating units that failed right close to peak," said ERCOT Interim CEO Brad Jones.

Jones and Lake called it a "coincidence" and "unusual circumstances", while not revealing the actual cause.

"We’re prepared for that, too. And that’s why we establish these margins of safety every day," said Lake, when asked what might have happened if that occurred in July or August.

The failure led ERCOT to urge customers to conserve energy through this past Sunday. But ERCOT insists it was ready for Friday’s heat-related demand, by making sure plants that were out for maintenance went back online ahead of time.

"This past week is an example of ERCOT doing what it needs to do to prepare for these types of events," said Lewin.

But energy expert Doug Lewin, president of Stoic Energy, sees it differently.

"I don't think there's any way to reasonably say that Friday demonstrates strength," said Lewin. "We have some vulnerabilities on our grid and those were exposed on Friday."

"The lights are going to stay on this summer," said Lake.

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As far as the bigger picture, both ERCOT and the PUC touted new reports that they say show the grid has the resources to meet summer demand, including brand new power generation.

ERCOT says by the end of this year it will have an additional 7,000 megawatts of solar, 2,000 to 3,000 megawatts of wind, and 1,000 megawatts of natural gas.

"We're ready. Our reforms are working. Our transition from a crisis based business model to a reliability based business model is showing results," said Lake.

Still, the ERCOT report did identify three variables that could spell trouble this summer: power generator outages, low wind, and high heat. 

Jones says if all three are at an extreme level, that could be a problem.

"We do see some concerns in that category, but that is a very unlikely scenario," said Jones.

"I think people should be concerned," said Lewin.

Lewin says he’s troubled there was no mention of energy efficiency by officials Tuesday, and worries reforms like adding more reserves may not be enough to prevent outages this summer.

"Those reserves are old power plants. And the more you pull them out of maintenance, the more wear and tear they get, the less likely they are to be there in July and August," said Lewin. "We all lived through last February. We all know that it's only 15 months later and there's no way you fixed all those problems."

ERCOT says it will release details on Thursday, on exactly what went wrong with those power plants last week.

Meanwhile, the PUC says they are working on additional reforms to bolster the power grid, stemming from Senate Bill 3, which the legislature passed following the deadly winter storm. They include upgrading aging power plants, as well as the construction of new transmission lines.