ERCOT is taking steps to help gaurd against blackouts during the ongoing heat wave.

Responding to record high electricity demand and the scorching heat, the state’s grid operator this week arranged for four mothballed generating units to temporarily come back online to guard against blackouts.

Operated by NRG Energy and Garland Power & Light, the old gas-fired units will be available through October. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the organization that manages the grid, said the gas plant operators will be paid to defray their fixed costs and fuel expenses.

“We don’t know if, or how much, these units will be needed, but if needed, the cost will be minor when divided by the 23 million consumers in the region and when compared to the much higher costs and problems from statewide rolling blackouts which these units will help avoid,”  said ERCOT CEO Trip Doggett.

PUC Chairman Nelson has called for ERCOT to consider all options to protect grid reliability.

Besides improving reliability, the move also could ease pressure in the state’s wholesale spot market for energy, where prices have spiked during the heat wave to $3,000 per megawatt/hour. That equates to about $30 per kilowatt/hour — or more than 600 times the lowest electric rates in the state’s retail market.

Spot market prices do not directly impact home utility bills but can indirectly impact them over time. Doggett said the NRG and Garland units will not displace operational units already bidding into the spot market. Nonetheless, it’s likely the added capacity will ease pricing pressure, especially as other units go down for unplanned maintenance.

In a letter last week, PUC Chairman Donna Nelson called upon ERCOT to take action to reduce the possibility of blackouts. “Look at all available options,” she wrote.

Ray Schwertner, Garland Power & Light’s Utility Director, said his organization stood ready to help.  “As a member of ERCOT, we want to be responsive to their needs, as well as the needs of the citizens of Texas,” he said.

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