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Beware of blackouts

This would not be great.

The nonprofit organization that operates Texas’ power grid warned Sunday that it may be forced to impose rolling outages in the state on Monday and Tuesday as a major winter storm brings record low temperatures and causes massive demand for electricity.

Power reserves in the state were stable Sunday afternoon, but the Electric Reliability Council of Texas is anticipating the need to go into emergency operations from Sunday evening until Tuesday morning, said Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations for ERCOT.

“During this fairly unprecedented cold weather event across the entire state, electric demand is expected to exceed our previous winter peak record set in January of 2018 by up to 10,000 megawatts,” Woodfin said. “In fact, the peak demand on Monday and Tuesday is currently forecasted to meet or exceed our all time summer peak demand of 74,820 megawatts.”

Texans purchase their electricity from companies, cooperatives or cities, but ERCOT works with those utility providers to manage the flow of power to more than 90% of the state.

If demand comes closer to capacity, ERCOT can declare a level-one, level-two or level-three energy emergency alert, which allows the council to use additional resources to respond to demand. According to ERCOT’s alert steps, the organization can import power from other regions, request extra power from transmission companies and release generation reserves under these alerts.

Temporary power outages are a last resort and would generally only occur after other resources had been exhausted. Woodfin said outages would be more likely to occur on Monday and Tuesday, but there is “certainly a possibility” that something could change and they could occur Sunday evening.

“If the additional resources available during an EEA (are) still not sufficient to balance generation and load, and we still don’t have enough resources to serve the demand, then we could have to implement what’s called rotating outages … so that we’ve got enough resources to cover what’s what’s left,” Woodfin said.

Outages typically last from 10 to 45 minutes for residential neighborhoods and small businesses, but the exact response would vary by transmission company, according to protocols for emergency alerts from ERCOT. ERCOT has only instituted three systemwide rotating outages in its history. The most recent one was more than 10 years ago on Feb. 2, 2011 in response to a blizzard affecting the state.

So good news, this is a very rare event, and ERCOT has tools at its disposal to make it less likely to occur. Bad news, the fact that they’re talking about it at all, and the fact that it would occur at a time when it’s super duper cold. Bundle up, turn off lights and try not to overdo your own electricity usage, and hope for the best.

UPDATE: Wow.

Nearly half of Texas’ installed wind power generation capacity has been offline because of frozen wind turbines in West Texas, according to Texas grid operators.

Wind farms across the state generate up to a combined 25,100 megawatts of energy. But unusually moist winter conditions in West Texas brought on by the weekend’s freezing rain and historically low temperatures have iced many of those wind turbines to a halt.

As of Sunday morning, those iced turbines comprise 12,000 megawatts of Texas’ installed wind generation capacity, although those West Texas turbines don’t typically spin to their full generation capacity this time of year.

Fortunately for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s electric grid, the storm’s gusty winds are spinning the state’s unfrozen coastal turbines at a higher rate than expected, helping to offset some of the power generation losses because of the icy conditions.

It’s going to be a strange couple of days. Hold on.

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13 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    Well, first of all, I hope everyone here stays safe and warm. Sincerely. Be careful, y’all….even that one guy.

    Now….

    “Nearly half of Texas’ installed wind power generation capacity has been offline because of frozen wind turbines in West Texas, according to Texas grid operators.”

    So, at the time when we need power most, we just lost half our wind power, and no one is reporting, but I suspect that ice and snow covered solar panels, say, at the future Sunnyside solar farm, won’t work very well either. Home solar? I don’t see a lot of homeowners climbing on an icy ladder to get on an icy second story roof trying to defrost their solar panels. You know what DOES work well? Yup, clean burning natural gas. For those of you with gas, when’s the last time you had a gas outage? I can’t EVER remember losing natural gas service here in Houston. Ever. Nobody’s complaining about coal plants going offline, either. They’re just steady chugging along, churning out reliable power when we need it the most.

    So, while I hope none of y’all get hit with the rolling blackouts, maybe consider the folly of savaging the oil and gas industry and propping up wind and solar that…..can’t come through for us in a clutch.

    FWIW, I have my heat on 57 with both units, not just because I’m a team player and willing to conserve to protect the grid, but also because my heaters are old, and I don’t want to kill them by trying to keep the house at 70. Obviously if I had vulnerable folks in the house I’d have to put it higher, but I can tough it out a bit.

    Observation: Since we all have a vested interest in conserving power right now, I don’t know why commercial customers aren’t encouraged to turn off the lighting for their signs, parking lot lighting, etc. There’s a lot of electricity that could be saved right there, just by doing that. CH 11 had a reporter standing in front of an area fully lit with all that, plus Christmas lights on trees, etc. That would be an easy way to cut usage, turning all that off.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    Meanwhile, in China….

    They don’t give a rip about the Paris Climate Accords. They don’t have to do anything different, and they aren’t literally without power, because they have plenty of coal fired electricity generation in China. But hey, let’s slit our own throat and let our competitor/enemy take over the world while feeling free to pollute all they care to pollute, in the name of equity, I guess.

    https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2021/02/13/chinas-new-coal-power-plant-capacity-in-2020-more-than-3-times-rest-of-worlds/

  3. Ross says:

    Bill, are you saying you want to build more coal plants here? That would be stupid given the provable health issues Texas coal plants burning lignite cause. And that’s ignoring the mercury they dump into the atmosphere.

  4. Bill Daniels says:

    Ross,

    I’m saying that the coal plants we HAD here, like W.A. Parish, et al, shouldn’t have been completely killed, which is what the Obama regime did. He fulfilled his promise of “you can keep your coal plants, but you’ll never be able to afford to operate them.” Imagine if we hadn’t attacked them, but instead kept them serviced and in shape, to use not as every day big generators, but as on demand peaker plants, just like clean burning natural gas fired peaker plants that are kept on standby all year for those few times during the Summer when we need that extra burst of electricity to get us through the hump. We should have let them run in some minimum capacity, just so they’d be available now, and during the Summer. I know you despised Trump, but his energy policy of “Yes, ALL of the above!” would sure be nice right about now. If you’re out of power right now, you’d probably gladly pay $ 11K a megawatt to get some of that horrible, terrible, coal powered electricity right now, today.

    I’m also pointing out the folly and failure of ‘green energy.’ If you had $ 35-40K worth of solar and Powerwall or other battery backup installed on your house, and your electric was cut off today, exactly how much electricity do you expect to get from your iced and snowed over solar panels? When you really need it, it’s not there.

  5. manny says:

    That is what they did in California to drive up their profits, withhold energy.

  6. Bill Daniels says:

    From the article embedded in Kuff’s Facebook link:

    “Temperatures are low enough to trigger so-called freeze-offs, when wells shut down because of liquids freezing inside pipelines. Texas facilities operated by pipeline companies DCP Midstream LP and Targa Resources Corp. were reported shut on Thursday due to the cold. Enbridge Inc. said it was limiting requests to transport gas on a pipeline stretching from Texas to New Jersey.”

    I’ve got to admit I never heard of this phenomenon. I wonder if the NGL condensate is freezing? Is the oil too viscous? Frankly, it sounds a little sketchy, making me wonder exactly what all the ex-Enron folks responsible for fleecing California, as Manny mentions, are doing right now, today.

    But even that doesn’t make sense, because if we’re to the point where we are blocking millions of customers from buying uber expensive electricity, then how are massive profits going to be generated? Seems like you’d want to have most people still getting power, just the most expensive power possible.

    Anyway, I hope all here still have power. I haven’t lost mine so far, knock on wood.

  7. manny says:

    While paying higher and higher prices rolling blackouts were on going. While not as infamous as Enron, Koch industries was also involved, money made in the trading of commodities

  8. Ross says:

    Bill, the Parish plant wasn’t shut down, it’s still burning coal and has one of the largest carbon capture systems ever built. Parish burns high quality coal, not the crap that Monticello, Big Brown, and the others burned. Parish also has 4 units that burn natural gas. The lignite plants in East Texas shut themselves down after their profits were killed by low natural gas profits making gas cheaper than even the crappy coal they burned.

    You can’t use coal for peaker plants, it takes too long to get coal units started up, as in 12 hours or more.

    Most natural gas has some amount of liquid content, from water to things like butane, propane, etc. It is very common for gas wells to freeze up in very cold temperatures. Heck, I have a friend whose wells froze up in the Summer time. There are also issues getting dry gas to consumers, related to frozen liquids and instrument failures.

  9. Lobo says:

    FROST TOWN LITERALLY.
    Power went off early this morning, no rolling and roaming blackout, just all black after sundown. At least gas stove still online with manual lighting needed to make drip coffee and prep candle light dinner. Folks feeding cell phone from car battery. — Saludos del Segundo Barrio hacia Mama Ninfas.

  10. Bill Daniels says:

    I know folks here will be happy to know I lost power about an hour and a half ago, so I guess that’s it. Cooking a roast in the oven and when that’s done I guess I will turn in early. Good luck Wolf and all the slightly dysfunctional OTK family.

  11. Flypusher says:

    For those who don’t have power, my sympathies. It seems that I chose ever wiser in house hunting than I originally thought, in that I seem to be on an essential power grid. Nevertheless I have turned the heat down to 62 and unplugged everything except the fridge to conserve power, in the spirit of being part of a society.

    Perhaps this is an issue for the lege to address. The weather is only going to get crazier.

  12. David Fagan says:

    Off grid,

    People need to be more self sufficient. Take care of your own solar panels. Manage the wattage of your household to it’s design. People have choices, but the easiest one is to depend on someone else.