EnergyTransportationConcerns Raised About High-Speed Rail’s Potential Impact on Texas Energy Grid

Citizens and legislators are concerned about the possible impact the proposed high-speed rail system between Dallas and Houston could have on the Texas power grid.
March 5, 2021
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Given February’s power grid crisis, skeptics have raised questions about the ability of the Texas power grid to hold up under the increased demand of running a high-speed rail system between Dallas and Houston.

“The power failure we just went through highlighted one of the major issues of the project,” Kyle Workman, president of Texans Against High-Speed Rail, told The Texan. He explained that electricity is the fuel source for this project.

“The grid just can’t support the project without major upgrades. Who will pay for the upgrades?” he queried.

According to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) released by the Federal Railroad Administration last fall, “The Project would obtain electricity from the statewide grid, managed by Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), resulting in an overall effect on statewide energy use. The total energy (electrical) demand of the Project, at maximum, is estimated to be 531,867 megawatt hours (MWh) per year.” That amounts to an average daily use of 1,457 MWh.  

ERCOT estimates that 1 MWh can fuel the needs of approximately 200 homes per day. The train system would have the energy requirements equivalent to approximately 291,400 homes.

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The FEIS goes on to state that ERCOT projects an increase in electricity demand in the state and plans to add 489,840 MWh of additional daily generation. 

If that is the case, then the high-speed rail would not create any electricity demand problems for the ERCOT power grid so long as the forecasted capacity is added before the train begins operations.

However, Workman pointed out that during last week’s hearings in the Texas House, when asked about future additions to power generation in Texas, former heads of ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission (PUC) said they don’t see adding the capacity because there is no market for it.

The FEIS also pointed out that the project would require new transmission line connections, which fall under the purview of electric utility providers. 

Rep. Ben Leman (R-Brenham), who sits on the Texas House Energy Resources Committee, also has concerns about how the anticipated high-speed rail operations could impact Texas’ power grid.  

“We don’t know the critical load for the high–speed rail, and we need to know that,” Leman told The Texan, pointing out that the system would require more power when trains are starting up than when they reach cruising speed.

According to Leman’s office research, the current demand in Texas is 37,800 MWh and the current capacity is 48,341 MWh. The ERCOT mobile application shows currently 5,260 MWh of operating reserves on hand at this time. Anything below 2,800 MWh and ERCOT would initiate their emergency conditions.

Leman sees the question regarding the power demand as part of a broader issue regarding the major regulatory considerations that should be required before the high-speed rail system is given a construction permit or the power of eminent domain.  

He is working on legislation that will provide a mechanism for involving the necessary regulatory agencies and empowering them to review the necessary components before the high-speed rail is either given eminent domain authority or permitted to begin construction.

“A project of this magnitude using new technology needs to have state regulatory oversight before construction begins,” Leman emphasized, adding that the same concerns remain even if the Supreme Court of Texas grants the railroad eminent domain authority.

JBJQ Ranch, landowners along the proposed route, filed a complaint with the PUC in May 2020 believing the Texas Central Railroad would “adversely affect the reliability of the electric grid and increase electricity costs.” It asked that the PUC require ERCOT to investigate the electric demand by Texas Central’s project and adopt rules such as requiring Texas Central to provide its own generation and transmission.

The administrative law judge dismissed the complaint, finding that it didn’t assert any way in which ERCOT has violated a duty it had under law.  

Texas Central did not respond to The Texan’s inquiries.

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.