ERCOT prepares for summer, adds new power and communication system

Before a crisis hits the ERCOT power grid control room, consumers who sign up for the new TXANS notification system should know in advance.

T-X-A-N-S stands for Texas Advisory and Notification System. A key part of it is the weather watch feature, according to the head of ERCOT Pablo Vegas.

"This earlier, 3 to 5 day look ahead gives a public notification of possible higher demand due to forecasted conditions, with an asked to keep an ear out for more information should conditions change," said Vegas.

Energy analysts, like Ed Hirs a University of Houston Energy Fellow, said this new line of communication is a good step, and it also comes at a good time.

"Keep in mind that when they had the seasonal assessment for the summer, they pointed out that there are several scenarios. Extreme scenarios, but scenarios nonetheless, where we could be short of power. And as the requirements of the last legislative session were put into place, the primary one is staying in touch with your consumers. And ERCOT needs to be able to get the message out to us," Hirs said.

ERCOT is also pushing its consumer conservation program to help when demand is high.

"But we do believe that we have enough resources to operate the grid reliably this summer and still expect that to be the case," said Vegas.

Despite that assurance, Hirs believes conservation requests should include compensation in order to get more people to participate in protecting the grid during peak demand.

"It really should be demand response programs or something that ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission have offered to industry for a long time. Why not offer it to the residential customers? For example, if you or I were in the office at four in the afternoon and were hitting peak demand, they could send a text to us and say, ‘Hey, how about a couple of dollars to opt out for the next hour and a half?’ And you could on your phone accept that, and you would be paid and a power to your home would be turned off," said Hirs.

Some local utilities compensate consumers for installing solar panels. They're on top of Riverbend Church. Pastor Dave Haney, on Good Day Austin, praised the program.

"I like to imagine if you had a thousand churches who did this, we could really make a difference. We'd change the power supply for the city of Austin," said Pastor Haney.

At the capitol, legislation was passed to get power companies to build new power plants that run on fuel like natural gas. Low interest loans are being offered, but at a recap of the Legislative Session at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick described it as a test.

"And by the way, we put a deadline on this plan, these companies to get that 0% loan or 3% now have to do it by December 31 of this year. If they don't do that, then we know where we are," said Patrick.

Hirs thinks the loan plan will fall short.


"I don't think it's going to work. There's nothing that the legislature has done to ensure that any new power plants would be profitable. Doesn't matter whether it's a 3% loan or not. You have to pay back the shareholders have to pay back Wall Street," said Hirs.

There are also doubts, by Hirs, regarding how the electrical power sales market redesign will function. He admits he is concerned about how long it will take for the Grid to rebuild, and he is not exactly predicting a total grid collapse.

"Not doom, but I think we're looking ahead to a summer and a couple of more years of ERCOT weather roulette, more volatility of service and higher prices," said Hirs.

ERCOT is launching a new strategy to have additional backup power this summer.

"It's called ERCOT Contingency Reserve Service. So this is a very fast and flexible service. What it is, is it's a generation unit that can come online in 10 minutes, has to be at full power and be able to run for at least 2 hours. In addition, we have other existing reserve services that we're going to be using. We have one called non spin. Non spin requires units to come online in 30 minutes and be able to run for 4 hours," said Vegas.