Following a conservation call to Texans amid tight grid conditions on Friday evening last week, state leaders on Tuesday were spinning it, calling the request “routine”, “voluntary” and a sign that the system and the reforms “are working as intended.” To cap it all, Gov. Abbott and his top appointee on the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Peter Lake promised “the lights will stay on” this summer and that “the grid is more reliable than ever” despite new projections of record demand and six generators failing in succession last Friday afternoon.
The repetition of those mantras by the two state leaders suggest Abbott’s intervention with the state’s utility regulators to create a positive spin on the grid is ongoing.
Last week’s tight conditions followed two weeks of record high temperatures across Texas for the month of May. This past weekend, the demand was to peak because of those high temperatures and the six generators failing brought electricity supply quite close to demand on Friday. One reform the state has failed to do is to reduce demand through increasing energy efficiency and scaling up demand response programs.
The Texas Tribune reported one of those six generators that failed did so after state regulators asked them to delay scheduled repairs. This was part of the state’s new proactive approach to have as much generation on as possible to meet peaks in demand. Lake defended the approach, pointing to the lack of outages the past weekend as evidence of its success.
The PUC Chairman and ERCOT CEO Brad Jones, who held the press conference Tuesday, were seen photographed with Gov. Abbott on Friday afternoon as the six generators reportedly began failing. Lake rebuffed the suggestion that Abbott ordered the conservation alert to go out after 5pm Friday and said the afternoon meeting was “coincidental”, “unrelated”, and part of previously scheduled briefings on summer operations for the Governor. He continued saying the decision was by himself and the ERCOT CEO after a recommendation from the ERCOT operation center.
Experts say the grid is not ready for an extreme heat wave. Rice Civil Engineering Professor Dan Cohan told KUT, “I don’t think the grid is ready to handle another 2011-style heat wave… I don’t think the grid is ready to supply all the demand without at least having some localized, very brief, rolling blackouts this summer.”