Rolling Blackouts Less Likely This Summer

A day after rolling power blackouts in East Texas and around the state, high temperatures hit records again.  Monday, many power plants around the state were out of service, and when temperatures peaked, folks turned on the air conditioning and the demand exceeded the supply.

Tuesday, more electricity was made available, and the crisis didn't repeat.

"TXU supplies power into this grid, as does AEP, City of Austin, all of us are in the same grid," says TXU Electric Delivery Tyler Manager George Bennett.

The grid is run by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.  That organization feeds power into one huge web.

"If one company has a problem, the other companies in the system help them since they're all tied together," Bennett says.

Monday, some power plants were out of service for routine maintenance.  That's something done in this normally mild month.

Monday's expected power use was about 49,000 megawatts, twenty percent above normal. Then, customers actually pushed the peak to nearly 52,000 megawatts, creating a delicate balancing act that tipped when several generating stations suddenly failed right during rush hour.

So ERCOT ordered rolling blackouts to save the system.

"The system is designed so it all survives together, or it all goes down together," Bennett says.

ERCOT said "jump" and the every power company did. Because had the whole regionwide system gone down, the power outages would have been a lot longer than just 15 minutes. So if this is already happening in April with the hotter months ahead, what is the power forecast?

"If it had been in July, it probably wouldn't have been a problem. Because every plant that is available on the system is out there ready to run," he says.

Bennett adds though the energy surplus is not as large as in years past, Texas' growth won't give us a summer nightmare.

"This is not California. We have enough power to fuel our system. We some plants that are down and those will be up way before the summer peak gets here."

One of the questions we've received was why was there no public warning.  The Electric Reliability Council's website says the sudden failure of those four power plants bumped them from on-alert status to full-scale rolling blackouts in an instant. A "public appeal for [energy] conservation" is in the ERCOT emergency plan, but that wasn't given until 13 minutes after power companies were ordered to start cutting power.

Reported by Morgan Palmer.