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AUSTIN (KXAN) — For nearly two decades, the Lone Star State has generated more wind-sourced electricity than any other state in the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration, or EIA.

In 2022, EIA reported Texas produced more electricity than any other state and generated twice as much as second-place Florida.

However, Texas also leads the country in another category. According to EIA, Texas is the largest energy-consuming state in the nation across all sectors with more than half of the state’s energy being used by the industrial sector.

Pie chart illustrating the amount of energy used by sector in Texas (Courtesy: U.S. Energy Information Administration)

As of May 2023, Texas residents paid 43% more for natural gas and around 10% less for electricity compared to the national average, according to EIA. Commercial and industrial sectors on average for the same month paid 25% less for electricity compared to the national average.

Chart illustrating comparing Texas’ price for energy compared to the national average in May 2023. (Courtesy: U.S. Energy Information Agency)

KXAN has learned more about Texas’ main electric operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ (ERCOT) structure, and how operations differ from other states.

U.S. electric system compared to Texas

The U.S. electric system is essentially split into three regions called interconnections and are managed by a total of 74 entities called balancing authorities that ensure that power supply and demand are balanced throughout the region to prevent the possibility of blackouts, according to EIA.

The three regions (Interconnections):

  1. Eastern Interconnection: Covers all U.S. states east of the Rocky Mountains, a portion of northern Texas, and consists of 36 balancing authorities.
  2. Western Interconnection: Covers all U.S. states west of the Rockies and consists of 37 balancing authorities.
  3. ERCOT: Covers the majority of Texas and consists of one balancing authority (itself).
U.S. map illustrating the three electric power regions that make up the nations power systems. (Courtesy: U.S. Energy Information Administration)

“ERCOT is unique in that the balancing authority, interconnection, and the regional transmission organization are all the same entity and physical system,” according to EIA.

With this being the case, Texas is the only state in the U.S. that balances itself, the only state that is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, and the only state that is not synchronously interconnected to the grid in the rest of the United States in the event of tight grid conditions, according to EIA.

Every other state in the U.S. is connected to a web of multiple balancing authorities that contribute to ensuring power supply and demand are met.

U.S. map showing which balancing authorities (represented in circles) are interconnected. (Courtesy: U.S. Energy Information Administration)

California, for example, was the fourth largest electricity producer and the third largest electricity consumer in the nation in 2022, according to EIA.

Although California produces significantly less electricity than Texas, it has the ability to connect with more than 10 neighboring balancing authorities within the Western Interconnection to interchange electricity. ERCOT being independent only has electricity interchange with two balancing authorities, one of which is in Mexico.

KXAN asked ERCOT whether there were advantages or disadvantages to operating independently and whether it has ever considered joining the Eastern Interconnection. We will update this story when we receive a response.

Regardless of Texas’ unique power structure compared to the rest of the nation, the vast majority of the U.S. risked electricity supplies during this summer’s high heat, according to EIA.

Electricity demands and preparations moving forward

The demand for electricity during the winter and summer months in Texas has led ERCOT to issue alerts related to tight grid conditions and requests for energy conservation to prevent potential grid-related outages nearly every year since 2011.

Since June of this year, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, issued 12 alerts, including a Level 2 Energy Emergency Alert (EEA 2) from ERCOT on Sept. 6 due to tight grid conditions and the need for conservation as a result the extreme heat leading to record-breaking demands for electricity.

According to ERCOT, the demand for electricity in Texas hit an all-time high on Aug. 10, marking the 10th new all-time peak demand record this summer alone and the 13th time since 2000 that this record has been broken.

KXAN asked ERCOT what it is continuing to do to prepare and meet the record-breaking demands it is seeing.

In response, ERCOT stated it “will continue to operate the grid conservatively, bringing generating resources online early to mitigate sudden changes in generation or demand.”

Additionally, ERCOT told KXAN it has implemented a new program called the ERCOT Contingency Reserve Service (ECRS) which went live June 8 and provides grid capacity that can respond within 10 minutes to address forecasting errors or to replace deployed reserves to its other Ancillary Services.

Since launching the new program, ERCOT deployed ECRS 10 times in June and July due to low frequencies, insufficient capacity, or low projections.

“ECRS performed well in all deployments and helped recover from the events that triggered deployment,” according to the ERCOT Board of Directors meeting in August.

ERCOT said it will also continue executing previous sessions’ legislative reforms to improve grid reliability. The majority of these reforms were implemented with the passing of Senate Bill 3 during the 87th Legislative Session following the 2021 winter storm, which include:

  • Weatherization and Inspections. Electric generation units and transmission facilities weatherize and are inspected by ERCOT. 
  • Firm Fuel Supply Service. An additional source of fuel onsite for generators benefits the grid by providing a redundant, or additional, fuel source should there be a natural gas scarcity.
  • Scheduled Maintenance Period. ERCOT has worked with generators and transmission operators to schedule their maintenance so they could prepare their equipment for winter.
  • Fast Frequency Response Service. This is a new addition to its ancillary services that provides a group of generators that can power up quickly during operating conditions that change rapidly.
  • Reliability Unit Commitments. ERCOT can bring more generation online sooner when needed.
  • Critical Supply Chain and Critical Infrastructure Map. This map was created to share the locations and connectivity of all the critical parts of the Texas power infrastructure.
  • Improved Communications. Agencies are seeing improved communications through both the Texas Department of Emergency Management and Texas Energy Reliability Council.