This Summer's Texas Blackout Avoidance Strategy: Diesel Generators and Voluntarily Going Dark

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Seeing as how the Texas climate these days is predisposed to extremes, the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas passed a rule change last week they hope will prevent another epic, frozen February blackout or a grid driven to the brink by gawd-awful Texas heat.

We already use a system that works like this: Certain large customers whose load is a megawatt-hour or greater volunteer to have power curtailed during grid emergencies. It's a way to ration electricity, and these volunteers are paid for their trouble. Problem is, committing a whole megawatt is tough for a business, especially when a voluntary outage can stretch for 28 hours, as they did during the great rolling blackout of 2011. It turned a lot of businesses off to the idea, ERCOT senior analyst Paul Wattles tells Unfair Park.

So the PUC has opened the program up to smaller customers, who can now sacrifice 100 kilowatts for the sake of electric grid stability. Wattles says the change is intended to attract more participants, and more electric capacity, to the program. For example, say a couple of grocery chains want to team up for this program. But one megawatt is a lot of electricity to give up, and if one chain doesn't hold up its end of the bargain during a grid emergency, the other is left on the hook to turn out lights and jack up thermostats. One hundred kilowatts, on the other hand, is a bit more manageable. Or at least that's the idea.

(According to this January report from the Environmental Defense Fund, ERCOT lags behind other big grid operators in this sort of emergency conservation program, called "demand response." The amount of electricity ERCOT expects to receive from its demand response system amounts to just over 2 percent of peak electricity demand -- that's when we need it most -- the EDF said. PJM, a grid operator in the Mid-Atlantic/Midwest, hit 9 percent -- this despite that fact Texas leads the nation in deployment of the sort of "smart meters" needed for stuff like this to work.)

The other component ERCOT's new rules is to essentially expand the definition of what is considered a "generator." If a hard freeze hits, or a heat wave sends Texans scuttling for the thermostats, ERCOT can now call upon a business like a data center or a coastal water treatment plant, both of which may have diesel generators capable of producing more electricity than they actually need. ERCOT will pay them to be on standby during emergencies to inject electricity into the grid if needed.

Question is, will anybody bite given the considerable discretion ERCOT wields regarding how long it can keep their lights out? "This has been a pretty big issue for the last year," Wattles says. "We've always had a provision that it's nominally eight hours. But if we're still in a deployment event, and we cross the eighth hour, you can't just come back. You have to wait until ERCOT releases you. We could still be in rolling blackouts."

The grid supervisor, Wattles says, is still trying to hammer out a compromise. Meanwhile, he's predicting another tight year.


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10 comments
Chris Danger
Chris Danger

Wow, ERCOT never ceases to amaze me...Instead of stepping up and building trust relationships w/ other states to build out power transmission lines, we're stuck with this idiocy. Republican Politics in Action kids, gotta love it...

Keepcool
Keepcool

Speaking of generators..... I'm ordering mine next week to be permanently installed at my home. I'm not relying on any of them to keep me cool this summer.

NotTheSuburbs
NotTheSuburbs

Why doesn't ERCOT connect to the other grids in the US and buy electricity from them?

GusMitchem
GusMitchem

It's not going to get blazing hot for days on end ala 2011, and all your bitching will be fornot

Doesn't matter all this bitching is generally worthless anyway

Paul
Paul

Wow, what an achievement of electricity deregulation ... we now have an electricity generation and distribution system that is on par with many 3rd world countries.

3 Cheers for Electricity Deregulation!!!!

In addition to choice of providers, you now have choice as to whether or not you will even have electricity ...

Now I'm off to the internet to shop for a 10 to 20 KW genset that I can have my choice of running off of natural gas, propane or gasoline.

PS:  The EDF's idea of "demand response" is great if you live in a state which has little or no growth or is shrinking in its energy demands.

Paul
Paul

 That would then destroy the fiction that keeps the FERC out of regulating the electricity generation and distribution business in Texas.

Lord knows we need to keep the evil, evil federal gummint out of our bidness ...

GusMitchem
GusMitchem

 Obviously you forgot the ads from the 80s,

Texas "Its like a whole other country " - Tourism Board "Dont Mess with Texas" - TXDOT

We are sitting on two of the nations largest natural gas fields surely we can make some electricity  !

Brantley Hargrove
Brantley Hargrove

 You got some kinda crystal ball? I know a coupla climatologists (and ranchers) who'd pay good money for it.

Paul
Paul

 My favorite comment on the rulemaking:

"ERCOT supported giving ERCOT the flexibility to determine the appropriate clearing methodology."

Yes, the fox is saying that it should be allowed to guard the hen house.

Besides what was that comment that Clayton Williams made about West Texas thunderstorms?

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