An easier summer for ERCOT? New report suggests breathing room for regulators. Photo by David Tribble.

Texans may be called upon this summer to conserve power, but probably won’t suffer rolling blackouts similar to those that blanketed the state in 2011, according to a new forecast from the operator of the state’s power grid.

The analysis credits a decision by generation companies to return some disused plants to service, an expectation that drought conditions will be less severe, and several other factors. All this still adds up to a challenging summer — but one in which the grid operator should handle any energy shortfalls through emergency alerts and calls for voluntary conservation.

Although energy supplies may be tight, “having … additional generation available this summer will help reduce the likelihood of rotating outages,” said Trip Doggett, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) that manages the grid.

The new forecasts are included in an updated analysis known as the Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy, or SARA, which ERCOT releases periodically to help policymakers plan for the state’s future energy needs.  Concerns have grown in recent months that the state’s electric supplies could fall below safe levels — perhaps as early as 2014.

TCAP Director Moravec

As a consequence, some policymakers are pushing for quick market changes intended to increase energy costs under the theory that generation companies will build more power plants if their revenues increase.   But Randy Moravec, executive director of the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power, said the updated SARA shows that policymakers should now have more breathing room. “This report suggests the need for continued careful deliberation, but not rushed changes that could shock the market and increase prices,” said the TCAP director.

ERCOT did not completely rule out rolling outages this summer, but said they might occur only if the state endures more record-breaking drought conditions — which currently are not forecast — or if an abnormally high number or plants go out of service during peak usage times.

All told, about 2,000 megawatts of old plants plants are expected to come out of the mothballs in time for this summer. That’s enough to power about 400,000 homes during peak usage periods. “The addition of new mothballed generation should relieve some of state’s reliability challenges — especially if forecasts hold true for less severe drought conditions,” said Moravec.

You can read the full SARA report here.

— R.A. Dyer

Who is the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power?

TCAP is a coalition of more than 160 cities and other political subdivisions that purchase electricity in the deregulated market for their own governmental use. Because high energy costs can impact municipal budgets and the ability to fund essential services, TCAP, as part of its mission, actively promotes affordable energy policies. High energy prices also place a burden on local businesses and home consumers. 

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