AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas utility leaders said they feel confident the state’s power grid will be able to withstand winter weather this year, but they are still keeping an eye on certain extreme conditions outlined in two new reports about power availability and reliability.
In a press conference Tuesday, the Chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas Peter Lake said he “absolutely” expects the lights to stay on, given the changes implemented over the last two years.
At least 246 people died and millions were left in the dark when a winter storm plunged the state into freezing temperatures for days in February 2021. Lawmakers required power generators and electricity providers to prepare their equipment for freezing conditions.
Lake outlined several additional reforms, including improved communication across state agencies and the industry, as well as an effort to map critical infrastructure for the natural gas supply chain, which is needed to keep the state’s power generators online.
Still, a seasonal assessment report from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the power grid, shows scenarios where Texans could be asked to conserve their power usage during an emergency. The most extreme scenario outlined in the report, involving high demand for electricity and generation outages, could result in outages and rolling blackouts.
“There is a scenario where under the most extreme conditions there is not enough power. That is not acceptable,” acknowledged Pablo Vegas, the new CEO of ERCOT. “We’re not trying to underplay it at all. It does reflect a very low probability scenario, so we want to be clear on what it is.”
Vegas went on to say he believes this is why an ongoing review of the electric market design will provide more long-term solutions. He pointed to the ever-growing population in Texas leading to increased demand for power. Meanwhile, he said many sources of power generation being added to the system are wind and solar generators — which provide more generation in the summer months than in the winter months.
“The elements that are outside of our control — which is what generation elements get built and when, as well as how fast demand grows in the state — those elements also outside of our control — those have a pretty significant potential impact on the reliability of the grid,” he said.
Lake said they still will use “every tool available,” including calling for conservation, to avoid an emergency, but have avoided outages during record-setting heat this summer and even this past winter.
“The basic arithmetic of adding and subtracting numbers doesn’t account for the many reforms we have put in place like better coordination and communication,” Lake said.
Vegas also emphasized that weatherization requirements for power generators would have most “significant impact” on reliability. Since the 2021 storm, he said they have inspected 450 of these generators. Each year, they expect to inspect one-third of the state’s generators — meaning over the next four to six weeks, they plan to conduct 350 inspections.