EnergyStatewide NewsERCOT Grid Ready for Winter, State Officials Assert as Final Decision on Market Redesign Approaches

The Texas power grid approaches its second winter since the 2021 blackouts caused by a rare winter storm.
December 1, 2022
“The actions we’ve taken over the last year and a half have positioned us better than we have been,” Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) CEO Pablo Vegas told press at a Tuesday news conference concerning the grid’s readiness for the coming winter.

Vegas joined Public Utility Commission Chairman (PUC) Peter Lake to outline the ERCOT Seasonal Assessment of Resource Capacity (SARA) for the winter of 2022-2023.

The forecasted peak demand for this winter is 67,298 megawatts (MW), based on average conditions at winter peaks from 2007 through 2021. One MW can power about 200 homes during peak usage periods.

Lake stressed multiple times that every year, Texas adds to its population “the size of a Corpus Christi” — roughly 317,000 people — compounding the state’s ever-growing demand for electricity. The ERCOT power grid encompasses about 90 percent of the state’s population. The Southwest Power Pool provides power to the Panhandle and northeast Texas, while the Midcontinent Independent System Operator powers much of southeast Texas.

To cope with the added demand, ERCOT plans to have 87,300 MW of winter capacity available at peak demand. Seventy-five percent of that is from thermal generation sources, a mix of natural gas, coal-fired, and nuclear power. Two plants, one coal-fired and one gas-powered totaling 685 MW, are out of service for all of the winter according to the grid operator.

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Based on forecasting, 10 percent is expected to come from wind and 1.7 percent from solar generation; whereas wind tends to perform poorly during peak summer hours while solar produces well, the reverse tends to be true during winter.

Additionally, this year’s SARA includes battery storage in the estimates for the first time, placing that projection at 947 MW. Vegas added that the ERCOT grid has available around 3,000 MW of “firm fuel supply” — an industry term for on-site backup fuel available for generators in case of emergencies such as contracted gas not arriving through the pipeline. This was part of ERCOT’s first phase of market tweaks undergone after the 2021 blackouts.

The report also provides estimates on extreme risk scenarios, projections based on variables such as severe weather driving up demand, unreliable renewable output, and unplanned thermal outages. In one scenario, ERCOT estimates a potential extreme peak load of 80,100 MW, which would eclipse this past summer’s all-time record of 80,083 MW.

Of the four scenarios, only one projects possible load-shedding, i.e., forced blackouts.

That scenario includes a high peak load of 77,375 MW; extreme unplanned outages of 14,425 MW; and an extremely low wind output of 8,096 MW that’d leave wind producing at 1.8 percent of installed capacity.

During such a condition, the grid would be about 9,200 MW short of meeting demand.

Vegas cautioned that each of these scenarios is only a projection and the factors are unlikely to play out all at once like in the 2021 winter storm

He added that the reason for the direst scenario is the lack of development of thermal generation. Over the years, federal tax credits and local incentives have sparked an influx of renewable generation in Texas at the behest of new dispatchable power development; “dispatchable” means any source that can be deployed on command, not left to the whims of the weather.

“The fact that it exists highlights the need to build dispatchable generation,” Vegas said. “It’s critically important that we address that [problem] through the Phase II market reforms.”

In a Wednesday press conference, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick named ensuring more natural gas generation can be developed as a top priority for the 2023 Legislature.

Earlier this month, a consultant contracted by the PUC released its recommendation for tweaking the current ERCOT wholesale electricity market, on which power is bought and sold like any other commodity. The consultant recommended a “Forward Reliability Market” — industry jargon for financial rewards for generators that perform during periods of high stress on the grid.

The agency plans on finalizing its path for a redesign soon. But even so, the economic incentives and disincentives will take years to show improvement in dispatchable generation — the time to build power plants from the planning stage through ribbon-cutting — if it accomplishes that at all.

Lake and Vegas maintain that the grid and its players are ready for winter, as state figures have stressed ever since the post-blackout reforms began shaking out. They point to the state’s weatherization mandates passed for generators and the gas industry as the premier reason for the readiness.

In February, a cold snap one year after the 2021 blackouts caused a frenzy; media, politicians, and the public alike fretted about the grid’s readiness.

Those concerns fell flat as the state weathered the cold snap with little trouble. During this past summer, one of the hottest on record, those warnings again bubbled up; outside of three conservation requests, the ERCOT grid never came close to dipping into its reserves.

As he will likely have to do for the foreseeable future, Lake again fielded a reporter’s question of “Are the lights going to stay on?”

His answer was the same as the last time it was asked, and the time before that, and the time before that: “Yes, the lights will stay on.”


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.