EnergyStatewide NewsPower Plant Maintenance Coincides with Cold Front Delay to Stress Grid, Says ERCOT

A delayed cold front caused temperatures to remain higher longer than expected which caused slim margins on Texas' power grid.
April 13, 2021
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Texans were feeling déjà vu Tuesday afternoon when the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) issued an alert warning of stressed grid conditions. The cause was the delay of a cold front that was expected to drop temperatures and reduce the load on the grid, ERCOT Vice President of Planning Operations Woody Rickerson told media on a call.

As temperatures dropped, fewer air conditioners would be used and thus less stress on the grid. But because of the delay, that expected decrease in load did not come.

“We have no expectations of load shed (i.e. blackouts) this evening, some pretty severe things would have to happen,” Rickerson assured those on the call.

At the time of the call, ERCOT’s operating reserves dipped below 3,000 megawatts (MW), establishing a call to conserve energy. The first Energy Emergency Alert (EEA) is not triggered until reserves dip below 2,300 MW for 30 continuous minutes. An EEA, however, opens the door for ERCOT to implement measures it otherwise couldn’t — such as the temporary elimination of emissions limits to meet demand.

It has not been triggered yet, however, and ERCOT indicated they likely wouldn’t need to.

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Load shed, or rolling blackouts, would not be triggered until reserves drop below 1,000 MW.

A big reason for the slim margins, ERCOT stated, was the planned maintenance of 32,000 MW of typical generation — that is roughly 30 percent of the total generation. Every Spring, planned maintenance is conducted to prepare for the high-temperature summer during which electricity demand skyrockets. And those plant outages are often planned out months in advance.

Asked if the winter storm contributed to the maintenance, Rickerson demurred, stating, “I do not think the winter storm contributed to the planned maintenance outages that are underway.”

Wholesale electricity prices fluctuated between $1,500 and $500 per megawatt-hour (MWh), reflecting the stressed conditions.

While ERCOT did not have a breakdown available by source for the maintenance outages, Rickerson did say that solar generation was producing about 3,000 MW less than they expected due to overcast. “If we had that, we wouldn’t be having this call today.”

According to ERCOT’s data, solar generation did exceed projections around midday. Wind, meanwhile, dropped from 17,000 MW of generation to about 5,500 MW from midnight to the late afternoon and was at points underperforming its day-ahead projections.

The stressed conditions are expected to alleviate as the temperature drops during the evening and where the winter storm lasted five days, this tension isn’t expected to last through the evening.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is 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.