Texas Electricity Operators Fear Blackouts From New EPA Rules


The operators of the Texas electric grid are predicting a shortfall in capacity by as much as 2,600 MW during the hot Texas summer. The concern comes from the number of electricity plants that will be closing down or delaying their starting dates. This will make it even more challenging for the grid to keep pace as demand for electricity in Texas continues to climb.

Texas consumers have already felt the impact of a loss in electricity capacity. In 2011 a lot of electricity capacity was lost due to plant closings. The problem was exacerbated by freezing temperatures that caused mechanical failure at several power stations. Texas had to take the embarrassing step of having to import electricity from the Mexican electricity grid.

Recent experiences with rolling blackouts and concerns of more difficulties down the road has ERCOT reaching out to the Texas PUC to rework certain rules to give the operators of the grid wider latitude in the way they respond to an electricity demand emergency.

Additional proactive measures being taken by ERCOT include reaching out to the transmission operators to verify the accuracy of the projected in-service date a number of new electricity generation projects. There will be such a fine line between the demand and the supply of electricity over the coming year that there will be very little room for error. Texas electricity rates have been very low leading to a lack of new investment in electricity.

In many ways the Texas electricity Reliant Energy system has found itself caught in a perfect storm of weather conditions, new environmental regulations, and economic conditions. 2011 saw record weather on either end of the scale for Texas. The weather challenges faced by the Texas electricity grid started early in the year as February saw an ice storm that effectively shut down transportation and kept Texans inside their homes where they turned on their heaters and demanded record electricity output from the grid. The record demand along with weather-related failures at certain key points in the power generation infrastructure forced ERCOT to implement controlled blackouts.

The pressure on the gird didn’t let up as the summer brought a near record string of 100 degree days. Once again, the Texas electric system skirted on the edge of capacity. Along with the extreme temperatures, 2011 is also notable for the continuation of an historic drought in Texas as wells as unrelenting wildfires.

Somewhat ironically, at the same time Texas is dealing with this extreme weather it is absorbing the impact of new EPA regulations. The true impact of the new rules has been debated for a while but the time is rapidly approaching when the hypothetical impact is giving way to the real world impact as electricity plants that are unable to meet the new rules are closing down at exactly the time when Texas is struggling to generate enough electricity to meet demand. The impact of the new rules is not being felt just in Texas. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), the organization in charge of maintaining the reliability of the North American grid, is lobbying the Obama administration for more time to comply with the new regulations in order to prevent possible electricity disruptions.

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