Posts Tagged ‘Rolling blackout’

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is expecting to keep rolling blackouts at bay this week.  While we came perilously close to having statewide rolling blackouts last week, it turns out, coastal wind power proved helpful in averting an electric crisis then, according to ERCOT’s president.

Unlike wind farms in West Texas, which tend to generate more power at night, coastal wind generation has been better tracking peak daytime demands.

As demand ramps up in the late afternoon hours, coastal wind is also ramping up.  ERCOT President H.B. Trip Doggett, who briefly occupied the hot seat following rolling blackouts that occurred in February due to an unusual cold weather event which took out several coal and gas plants (albeit, once again wind was in there helping to keep the lights on) has a renewed interest in what renewables can do to help stabilize the Texas electric grid during peak power demand under hot weather circumstances.  In fact, he told reporters, “We would love to have more development of coastal wind. The diversity of coastal wind versus West Texas wind is an advantage to us in operating the grid.”

Last week, when the ERCOT grid came extremely close to initiating involuntary rolling blackouts across the state, wind generation kicked into higher production. While wind produced around 1,300 megawatts on Monday, it rose to about 2,000 megawatts on Wednesday with 70 percent of that coming from coastal rather than West Texas wind.  During the February cold weather event, it was West Texas wind that helped keep the lights on, so let’s hear it for wind.

And consider that if we had solar deployed across the state, we could better handle these huge peak demand times without having to increase air pollution.  When the demand rises this high, conventional coal-fired plants are allowed to turn their scrubbers off to increase the efficiency of the plants so they can generate more energy.  Also, old higher polluting plants are sometimes fired up to put more electricity on the grid and you can imagine what they do to the air quality.

If ERCOT is beginning to see the value of wind and solar under these circumstances, perhaps it is time to remind our elected officials that renewables could make Texas’ energy future so bright, we gotta wear shades.

ERCOT officials forecast that triple-digit temperatures will continue at least 14 more days. While they believe this week looks good for meeting electric demands, we are not out of the woods yet, and ERCOT is saying next week remains to be seen.

Public Citizen applauds everyone who is doing their part to reduce electric usage and encourages everyone to continue their efforts.

Read Full Post »

The PUC wants to have a meeting at the end of August to try to figure out how to fix Texas’s experiment of a deregulated generation market, as we look like we are going to run out of energy during what could be ever increasing hot summers.
It seems the current market based behavior doesn’t send proper signals to companies to build new generation.
In addition our grid was designed to be almost completely isolated from the rest of the country so we cannot get help if its needed and available.
Generators use old, outdated generation to reduce costs and even turn off environmental controls to further lower costs at the expense of citizens health and to maximize profits.
The “new” market is based on scarcity pricing but if generation is truly scarce we have rolling blackouts, which are devastating to the economy and kill people.
Before deregulation the Utility commission would request new generation be built in a certain time frame and capacity and pay a preset profit margin to the companies that participated. They did the same thing with transmission lines and retail costs.
These are critical infrastructure needs and were protected from the swings of the financial and other markets. The process was covered under the term Total Resource Planning.
Now with the current heat wave and over a decade of deregulated markets we face the possibility that there will not be enough generation to meet the needs of Texas. We have many old and highly polluting plants that resemble the old steam locomotives of the 1800’s carting around a bin of coal to burn rocks and boil water. A larger amount of our critical infrastructure also consists of ancient natural gas “steamer” plants that are only run around 400 hours a year and are also highly polluting and have proven not to be very reliable but highly profitable.
Compare that to the newer generation of combined cycle gas turbines that resemble a jet engine and have several additional generators attached to it to recover the excess heat to generate even more energy with low stack emissions.
We have harvested significant amounts of non-polluting wind energy (coastal wind is over-performing expectations during the current crises) but the majority is located in just one region (West Texas) leading to problems of transmission congestion and generation variability. Some progress has been made on building wind projects in the areas along the Texas coast that provide energy much closer to the time that its needed, but more needs to be done.
Texas has made very little progress on adding an solar generation (that would provide energy when its needed most) because of a lack of policy leadership at the legislature and the PUC.

Now the PUC wants to tinker with the market to see if it can artificially raise the price of energy by using a “proxy” price as in “we will pay you more because our market system isn’t working, so pretty please build some new generators”.

This is a hell of a way to provide the resources that Texans need. Its time to get rid of the old smoking wreaks of generation plants that are carrying the load, sucking up our ever shrinking water supplies and fouling our air, and go to a controlled “regulated” modernized generation plan that uses all our resources with the least impact to our health, environment and wallets.
We used to pay a fair price for services delivered, now we just pay and hope the lights stay on.


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas

Read Full Post »

This is a reprint of a post by Jake Dyer from the RechargeTexas.com blog

The rolling blackouts that swept through Texas last February have been blamed on the unexpected failure of generation plants. The temperature dropped during a cold snap, the plants froze up, and then — before anybody really knew what hit them — the lights went out.

And now we’re in the middle of another weather event – this time a heat wave – and just as before a large number of generation plants have failed. The loss of capacity during the February event sent wholesale electricity prices soaring to $3,000 per megawatt/hour, or more than 50 times higher than typical. The same occurred this week as well.

Clearly somebody is making money off the bad weather.  One expert, Oregon-based economist Robert McCullough, raised the possibility that there was  “artificially-created scarcity” last February. That’s regulatory lingo for market manipulation. Although not leveling any specific accusations, McCullough concluded that the cold weather alone could not explain the failure of the state’s power grid to operate reliably.

However, another expert,  the state’s independent monitor of the wholesale energy market, concluded the punishingly high price spikes in February were understandable, given the circumstances. He found no evidence of hanky-panky by electric companies.  Likewise, a federal report largely blamed the inclement weather, although it said plant operators could have done a better job.

This week’s event has not drawn such scrutiny. What’s clear, however, is that more than 20 generating plants unexpectedly failed during the middle of a heat wave. In February, 80 plants went down during a cold snap. Although the ERCOT grid operator hasn’t again ordered blackouts, the organization has taken other emergency steps this week. And if the situation gets worse, some businesses could have their power cut or there could even be more forced outages.

The fact that the lights went out in February prompted a statewide demand for answers.  If ERCOT is able to stave off rolling blackouts during this heat wave, it is unlikely that there will be a widespread outcry for a market manipulation investigation but Texans should be aware, that in a deregulated, market driven energy market, the potential for market manipulation is always there.

Read Full Post »

ERCOT announced a yellow alert at 3:15 today when they smashed through the state electric use record by over 2,000 MW.  With only 1800 MW of reserve available around 4:30, we are periously close to triggering rolling blackouts. 

With no end in sight for this excessive heat wave, it is imperative that Texans severely curtail their electric use.

Read Full Post »

An unusual weather event and rolling blackouts – what lessons were learned?  Apparently none.

A report from the Public Utility Commission of Texas is clear in its analysis of what went wrong and what needed to be done to prevent another such event:

The winter freeze greatly strained the ability of the Texas electric utilities to provide reliable power to their customers. Record and near-record low temperatures were felt throughout the state resulting in a significantly increased demand for electrical power.

At the same time that demand was increasing, weather-related equipment malfunctions were causing generating units to trip off the line. As a result, the state suffered widespread rolling blackouts and near loss of the entire ERCOT electric grid.

The extreme weather pointed out several weak areas in power plant operations. Inoperative or inadequate heat tracing systems and inadequate insulation on instrumentation sensing lines seemed to be the most common technical equipment problem encountered during the freeze.

Whether the corrective actions being implemented by the utilities are sufficient to prevent future freeze-related power plant failures, only direct experience with another deep freeze will ascertain.

You’d think this report was about the rolling blackout endured by a large swath of Texas when temperatures plunged and power plants failed this past February, but it isn’t.  This report was dated November 1990 and is referring to the record freeze of late December 1989.

The lone remaining copy of this report, “Electric Utility Response to the Winter Freeze of December 21 to December 23, 1989”, at PUC resides in its library north of the Capitol apparently unread and unheeded.  The descriptions of conditions in the old report — as well as the power companies’ explanations for what went wrong and how they intended to fix it — contain enough similarities to the rolling blackouts of two months ago to raise questions about how much the industry and its regulators have learned from the past.

Although state regulators are charged with overseeing many aspects of the energy market, requiring utilities to be weatherized isn’t one of them. When the PUC compiled its suggestions in 1990, there was nothing to make sure they would be followed.

One result of the February 2011 power shortages is a bill introduced by state Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) that would require power generation companies to produce a weatherization plan that is available to the public and reviewed regularly by the Public Utility Commission.

Perhaps this time, we have learned a lesson.  Letting industry regulate itself is not always in the consumers’ best interest.


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

Read Full Post »

John Carona, republican senator from Dallas and chair of the Senate Business and Commerce committee (one of the two Senate committees that jointly heard testimony on the rolling blackouts earlier this week) told the Dallas Morning news that he doesn’t think the Legislature needs to inact any new laws to prevent another day of rolling outages.

On the other hand, the chair of the Senate Natural Resources committee, Troy Fraser, republican senator from Horseshoe Bay, is making plans for legislation.

Check out the blog by Dallas Morning News reporter, Elizabeth Souder by clicking here.

Read Full Post »

Oak Grove coal fired power plant was one of the plants that caused rolling blackouts in Texas on February 2, 2011ERCOT just released an updated list of all of the power plants that were not operating Feb 2, contributing to the power shortages that caused the rolling blackouts.  That document is here, but we present the data below for your convenience.

Notice a trend? Natural gas and Lignite coal were the main power sources that couldn’t cope.

Meanwhile, the wind really saved our bacon. And since wind companies’ standard operating procedure is to bid into the market at $0 for their extra capacity (no fuel charge, so it doesn’t cost them anything to turn on the extra turbines if the wind is blowin’: unlike a gas plant that has to, you know, pay for their gas. Assuming they can get gas, that is.) wind did not contribute to the high prices of energy or manipulate the market.

For an even more in depth rundown, please see our testimony our Deputy Director, David Power, gave in front of a special joint session of the Senate Business and Industry and the Senate Natural Resources Committees.

PS- Sorry if the formatting on this list is hard to read- we tried as best we could to get all the data on here. (more…)

Read Full Post »

In a Public Utility Commission (PUC) hearing on Thursday, to address what happened to cause the rolling blackouts of Feb. 2, members of the commission accused the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) of ignoring dire energy forecasts, failing to communicate with other important decision makers, and understating the risk of rolling blackouts.

Texas PUC Commissioner Donna Nelson

Texas PUC Commissioner Donna Nelson

As part of a routine review of rules governing its relationship with ERCOT, PUC Member Donna Nelson requested to add language that says the commission at its own discretion and without ERCOT board approval may terminate the employment of the chief executive officer.

Board members indicated that what happened on February 2nd and the hours leading up to the decision to institute rolling blackouts throughout the state pointed to part of a pattern of ERCOT’s failure to communicate with the public and the PUC, the oversight agency for ERCOT.

Click here to view the archived video of yesterday’s PUC open meeting.

State officials seem determined to hold somebody accountable. The state Senate will also hold hearings in to the blackouts beginning next week.

Read Full Post »

Will my rates go up because of last week’s electricity mess?  That’s a question that the Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that promotes civic engagement and discourse on public policy, politics, government, and other matters of statewide concern, asked and their answer starts out:

Lots of Texans are asking that question in the wake of last week’s rolling blackouts, and nobody’s going to be happy with the answer, which is: “It depends” (if you ask the electricity industry); or “Yes” (if you ask consumer advocates).

Click here to read the complete Texas Tribune article.


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas

Read Full Post »

The Texas Railroad Commission added an emergency item to their agenda today so it could hear from the Texas Energy Reliability Council about natural gas service’s impact on the rolling blackouts that swept the state.  They told the Commission that Texas was never in danger of a natural gas shortage during last week’s statewide deep freeze and no electric generating company with an “uninterruptible” contract for gas had to do without.

Of course, one could also read that as gas supplies could have been interupted at generating facilities that chose to purchase their fuel under contracts offered at a lower price, but with the risk that delivery cannot be absolutely guaranteed in all circumstances.  That is, in fact what happened, so if those plants had been able to get delivery of natural gas, it is possible that the state might have been in danger of a natural gas shortage.

During the prolonged winter storm, gas production in the Barnett Shale was shut down as well as some others around the state. But that short-term gap in supply was filled by tapping reserves warehoused in underground salt domes, at least for those power plants that had uninteruptable contracts.

But be forwarned,  the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) warns that more blackouts might be needed as state braces for Arctic Blast Round 2 and  issued another plea for conservation, especially during the peak-use hours of 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., saying the grid is still down some 2,700 megawatts of capacity and that rolling blackouts might return with the next round of sub-freezing weather.

ERCOT said tomorrow’s peak demand is projected to exceed 54,000 megawatts between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. , and then top 58,000 megawatts between 7 and 8 Thursday morning. That would surpass the current winter peak demand record of 56,334 megawatts, which occurred Feb. 2.

Today’s hearing at the Railroad Commission was the first public review of the circumstances surrounding the rolling blackouts. It focused solely on natural gas supplies and production.

A more comprehensive hearing will occur Feb. 15 when the Senate Business and Commerce Committee meets jointly with the Natural Resources Committee to review issues surrounding the outages.

If you want to watch today’s hearing, you can catch it online at www.texasadmin.com.


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas

Read Full Post »

Brian Lloyd, the executive director of the Public Utility Commission has directed the electric reliability monitor (the Electric Reliability Council of Texas) and the electric market monitor (Potomic Economics)  to investigate all of the events surrounding last week’s rolling blackouts and electric generation failures.  This includes “all preparations” made by ERCOT and all actions taken once the emergency was in full force.  He has also directed them to pay particular attention to whether rules governing market manipulation and potential price gouging were violated.

Below is Lloyd’s letter.

PUC rolling blackout investigation letter

Read Full Post »

Wednesday, State Rep. Lon Burnam and his staff got little in the way of a satisfactory answer from ERCOT as to why as many as 50 power plants were off line, and predicted that the issue will remain a hot topic especially in light of the fact that ERCOT is up for a sunset review this session.  He also raised the question about who stands to benefit from this event and he is not the only one.

Public Citizen and Sierra Club called on Governor Perry and the Commissioners at the Public Utility Commission and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, (ERCOT) to investigate the cause of the outages and the response by the state’s regulated and unregulated electrical utilities and who profited.

In the early hours on Wednesday, prices on the wholesale electricity market shot up 66 times from 3:00 AM through 11:00 AM and the electricity companies made millions overnight as electricity prices rose to the cap of $3,000.

John Fainter, who heads the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, told the Texas Energy Report that such price spikes cannot be immediately passed on to ordinary customers in the competitive market who have fixed-rate contracts, but you can bet that eventually ratepayers will pick up that cost and some generators will rake in a windfall.

Fainter also said that allegations that some suppliers might have engaged in market manipulation to drive up the price is extremely hard to prove because you have to show that power that was otherwise available was deliberately withheld until it got to a certain price.  (watch the documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room to see how this works.)

We don’t disagree with Fainter’s assessment, but still believe that the wide price spike should be investigated.

Thursday, the need for continuing the series of rolling blackouts was lifted by ERCOT mid-morning. But the state’s generating capacity was still down by some 3,000 megawatts that afternoon. ERCOT said that voluntary efforts on the part of Texas residential and commercial users to curb consumption helped alleviate the crisis while insisting the state’s electric grid was never in danger of suffering a crippling catastrophic failure.

So kudos to all you Texas consumers who suffered in the cold and dark during the blackouts and then, girded by soup, hot drinks and blankets, continued to help out the utilities and the regulators by turning down your thermostats, turning off your TVs and computers, and paying your electric bills.  Must stop writing now, since in doing my part,  my thermostat is set to 58 degrees and my fingers are numb.

Click here to read an article by Forrest Wilder for the Texas Observer on utility profiteering during the rolling blackouts.


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas

Real Time Spot Pricing Report

Read Full Post »