Chris Brewster

Will some electric providers go belly-up after ERCOT switches over to a complicated new system in December? It’s a possibility says Austin-based energy expert Chris Brewster.

Speaking this week during the Gulf Coast Power Association’s fall conference, Brewster noted that some retail electric providers may have a difficult time managing around the risks of the new market design known as “nodal.” The new system, which will dramatically change how the state’s wholesale electricity spot market operates, goes live on December 1.

If some REPs don’t default outright, they may attempt to push unexpected costs down onto their customers, said Brewster. He predicted the reaction to the new nodal system may be similar to what occurred in 2008, when several mismanaged REPs attempted to pass unexpected transmission costs onto customers even though they had fixed-rate contracts.  He said some REPs already are inserting language into their contracts to allow them to charge customers for some nodal costs. “In my mind, that is very telling,” he said.

Brewster represents consumer interests at ERCOT, also known as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The organization plays a key role in the Texas electricity market, as it has responsibility both for managing congestion on transmission lines and for overseeing some wholesale power transactions.

With the new nodal system, ERCOT will change how it performs both functions. Under the existing system, ERCOT oversees the electricity market it in four broad zones of the state. With the new nodal system, ERCOT will manage it at thousands of separate geographical points, or nodes.

Although supported by large generation companies, independent reports have shown that nodal systems in other states have not lowered electricity prices or eliminated the manipulation of electricity markets. Moreover, the nodal transition in Texas is years behind schedule and so far over budget that it will cost more than twice as much as a similar system in California. It’s now budgeted to cost around $640 million, after initial cost estimates of less than $100 million.

You can read more details of Brewster’s comments in an article by Elizabeth Souder, of the Dallas Morning News.

— R.A. Dyer