Texas power provider asks residents to conserve energy despite typical spring conditions

ERCOT, which previously came under fire after February's deadly winter storm, issued the watch Tuesday.

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The electric grid manager for most of Texas issued an electricity conservation watch Tuesday, appealing to customers to conserve electricity despite weather conditions typical for spring.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which previously came under fire after it was accused of mismanaging its resources in preparing for the historic freeze in February that killed more than 100 people, issued the watch Tuesday, one step below emergency action. It blames “a combination of high generation outages typical in April and higher-than-forecasted demand from a stalled cold front over Texas,” in a statement Tuesday by Woody Rickerson, vice president of grid planning and operations.

Most afternoon temperatures ahead of the front Tuesday were in the upper 70s and 80s and the 50s and 60s behind it — seasonable temperatures for the time of year, according to the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, Texas. Temperatures in a typical Texas summer often top 100 degrees, straining the state’s power supply.

No power outages were expected, Rickerson said, but he wanted to alert customers as a precaution in the wake of the state’s deadly February cold wave.

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Rickerson said ERCOT expected a cool front that stalled across Central Texas to have instead continued its progress across the state, lowering temperatures as it did. The fact that the front stalled resulted in higher demand than expected, he said, adding that demand eased as the afternoon sun faded but could repeat conservation appeals over the next three to four weeks.

However, 32,000 megawatts of generating capacity had been taken offline, accounting for about 25 percent of the systemwide capacity, Rickerson said. Whatever damage caused by the deadly February cold wave has been repaired, he said.

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“Those outages are maintenance outages that plants have taken to get ready for the summer operations,” Rickerson said on a telephone news conference. “This is typically the time of year that we allow a lot of maintenance outages for units that are getting ready for the summer when there’s not enough bandwidth for them to take outages.”

Rickerson called the decision on whether to allow generators to shut down for seasonal maintenance “a balancing act” with narrow margins for error between supply and demand. Since ERCOT is a self-contained grid completely within the Texas borders, it is not subject to federal regulation. It also means the ERCOT grid has no access to the spot market for electricity from other U.S. energy grids, Rickerson said.

The power disruptions during the deadly February freeze led to the ouster of ERCOT’s chief executive and the resignations of all three members of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which regulates ERCOT.