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Does a Winter Blackout Loom for Texas as ERCOT’s Plan for Additional Power Fails?

Texans are facing an elevated risk of winter blackouts as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s electric grid operator, abandons plans to boost its power supply. The cancellation of the plan, deemed crucial to preventing emergency conditions during extreme cold, comes after plant operators rejected ERCOT’s request to restart mothballed plants by December 1.

ERCOT had sought proposals to address a 20% risk of emergency conditions during severe weather, with a 17% risk of rolling blackouts in January. Despite the need for an additional 3,000 megawatts of generating capacity, only 11.1 megawatts were offered, mainly from large-scale electricity users willing to reduce usage during peak demand.

The grid operator’s decision not to proceed with the offered reserve stems from the costs of the program and the minimal reliability benefits associated with the small capacity provided by industrial users. The offers did not come from plant operators, highlighting challenges in obtaining additional power from traditional sources.

Critics, including Texas grid expert Doug Lewin, deemed the outcome predictable, describing ERCOT’s attempt to procure additional power plants as a “Hail Mary” that was destined to fail. Public Utility Commission members criticized the move, questioning its legality and expressing frustration at ERCOT’s lack of transparency regarding program costs.

ERCOT CEO Pablo Vegas defended the decision, stating that the grid operator is not projecting emergency conditions this winter and expects to have sufficient resources to meet demand. The focus will now shift to evaluating alternative demand response products for future reliability.

As ERCOT faces a 21% risk of emergency conditions and a 17% risk of rolling blackouts in January, concerns about winter outages persist. The North American Electric Reliability Corp. warned of outage risks during storms or prolonged cold snaps. The biggest risk period in Texas this winter is during early mornings when solar power is unavailable, tightening the supply-demand balance until sunrise.

ERCOT’s handling of the winter reserve proposals provides insights into market responses, prompting the grid operator to explore other demand response products in collaboration with the Public Utility Commission of Texas. Despite the setback, ERCOT asserts its commitment to advancing winter preparedness through existing reliability programs and tools. The grid operator had initially planned to announce accepted proposals this week, but the outcome signals challenges in securing additional power for the winter months.

Written by RA News staff.


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