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Archive for October 19th, 2011

The worst drought in more than 50 years in Texas is expected to continue as a weak La Nina weather pattern is predicted to strengthen this winter.  Drought has already reduced cooling water needed by coal-fired power plants and may limit electric output from power plants next summer, an official from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT – the grid operator)  reported.

At this time, only one small generating unit is currently curtailed due to a lack of adequate cooling water, however a continuation of the severe drought in Texas could result in as much as 3,000 MW being unavailable next summer, Kent Saathoff, vice president of ERCOT grid operations told the board last week.

The drought has lowered the water level at nearly every reservoir in the state, according to the Texas Water Development Board. A lack of cooling water limits the ability of a power plant to operate at full capacity.

Texas’ hottest summer on record pushed power consumption to record levels, straining the state’s electric resources on many days in August.

Grid officials and lawmakers are worried that the drought will compound existing issues that impact the state’s power supply: looming environmental regulations that will curtail output from coal-fired power plants and a lack of new power-plant investment.

ERCOT predicts about 434 megawatts would be unavailable next summer if Texas gets about half its normal rainfall over the winter and spring months and if there is no significant rainfall, as much as 3,000 MW could be unavailable by May.

Power plant owners are taking steps to increase access to cooling water by increasing pumping capacity, adding pipelines to alternate water sources and securing additional water rights.  Some water authorities have already curtailed new “firm” water contracts, so it may be harder for plants to secure additional water.

Right now, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) is working to implement new energy efficiency legislation.  If we just used our energy more efficiently, we wouldn’t have come so close to a grid crisis even under the extreme circumstances of this past summer.  Other states have used energy efficiency to keep the lights on for their families and businesses when they were having problems by cutting energy demand by 20% or more on the hottest days of the summer.
Studies have shown that Texas could cut 23% of our peak energy use on the hottest days and it would be cheaper than generating electricity.
To prevent rolling blackouts next summer, the governor and the PUC could improve the energy efficiency and market-based conservation programs that will keep our air conditioning running on hot summer days and keep our local  businesses operating . 

The Texas Public Utility Commission should:

  • Reward utilities that exceed their energy efficiency goals.
  • Use the money from a program set up to provide utility assistance for eligible Texans that is funded by fee Texans pay on their electric bills every month for the weatherization of low-income homes.

And the governor can issue an executive order that requires all state agencies, schools, municipal and county governments to reduce energy use by 5% next summer and report their savings to the state.

You can email the governor and express your opinion by clicking here.

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