Photo: AgriLife Today, via NASA. Creative Commons License 2.0

Texas's power grid is under strain again, this time due to unseasonably hot weather that has lots of people cranking up the air conditioners while a number of power plants are offline for some reason. So the company that operates the grid, the whimsically named "Electric Reliability Council of Texas" (ERCOT), has asked utility customers to please please conserve power where they can, to avoid rolling blackouts.

The warning follow's February's extreme winter storms that knocked out power to millions across the state for several days, leading to as many as 700 deaths, according to an analysis by Buzzfeed News.

In normal places, a sudden demand for additional electricity can be met by ordering power from elsewhere, but Texas largely cut its power grid off from the rest of the country so it wouldn't be subject to federal regulation. That's worked out just great, as long as you don't mind some people freezing in the dark now and then. Following the winter blackouts, an ERCOT estimate projected possible blackouts this summer under extreme weather conditions. Oh yes, and Texas is forecast to have another drought, almost as if global warming were leading to more frequent extremes in weather.


This time around, ERCOT isn't sure why a number of power stations are out of service, even.

"I don't have any potential reasons that I can share at this time," said Warren Lasher, ERCOT senior director of systems planning, during a Monday call with media. "It is not consistent with fleet performance that we have seen over the last few summers."

The number of plants that were forced offline [Monday] is "very concerning" Lasher said.

"We operate the grid with the resources that we have available," he said. "It's the responsibility of the generators to make sure their plants are available when demand is high."

And before Texas Republicans start falsely blaming the outages on wind and solar again, the Texas Tribune reports that 80 percent of the power plants that are currently out of service are "thermal power sources" — which in Texas means natural gas, for the most part, since the state has largely moved away from coal as it's gotten more expensive.

In all, roughly 12,000 megawatts of generation capacity were out of service Monday, which would be enough to keep 2.4 million homes powered in hot weather. Even in Texas, that's a lot. The 9,600 megawatts of unavailable thermal generation capacity is far more than would be expected this time of year, when normally only about 3,600 megawatts of power would be offline.

Lasher, the ERCOT rep, said it was "unlikely" that rolling blackouts would be needed to protect the grid from excessive strain, so hooray for that. But this is the second time since the February outages that ERCOT has asked consumers to limit their use of electricity. In April, a bunch of plants were still out of service for maintenance following the winter storms.

Around the same time as that April warning, ERCOT also predicted the grid could be in trouble this summer if high temperatures or drought led to high electricity demand. It looked at several scenarios that might cause the grid to fall short of the power the state would need and found that

In the most extreme scenario ERCOT considered, a severe heat wave across the entire state combined with outages for every major power source would leave the grid short 14,000 megawatts, or enough to power 2.8 million homes.

Well gosh, that's not all that far off from the 12,000 megawatts the grid was already short on Monday. Wonder what the chances are that things will get hotter later in the summer? Are July and August typically warmer than early June? The current (May 20) NOAA drought forecast for the region predicts a "greater chance for above-normal temperatures" for Texas, although most of the state is not expected to have significantly less than normal precipitation from June to August, so that's good. (The exception is west Texas, which may have an elevated risk of low precipitation.)

Thank goodness the Texas Lege passed a bill requiring the state's energy providers to make their plants more resilient to extreme weather, and also to make wind and solar power less competitive because fuck the planet and the large mammals living upon it. Bit of a problem there, though, as the Tribune notes. The legislation

included a few key changes to the state's power grid that experts said will begin to address some issues, such as requiring power companies to upgrade plants to withstand more extreme weather and creating a statewide emergency alert system. However, it will likely take years before those changes are fully implemented. [...]

The state likely won't require companies to make weatherization upgrades until 2022 at the earliest.

Texas might also avoid some blackouts due to extreme weather if it were to actually connect itself up to the rest of America's power network (which we need to upgrade and make green as fuck for a clean energy future). But that may take a while, considering the willingness of Texas Republicans to sacrifice Texans' lives on the altar of Never Regulating Anything.

Oh, and one last thing:

As always, fuck Ted Cruz.

[Texas Tribune / Texas Tribune / Photo: AgriLife Today, via NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Creative Commons License 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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