The Electric Reliability Council of Texas released a new plan Tuesday aimed at making the state’s power grid more reliable. It comes on the heels of the massive winter power outages and recent warnings about power shortages on hot days in June.
NBC 5 Investigates has been analyzing the new plan, which ERCOT called a "roadmap for reliability." It includes a 60-item list and addresses several problems the legislature did not tackle when it passed new laws to stabilize the grid, problems highlighted by NBC 5 Investigates in a recent series of reports looking at what went wrong.
“We know we have to change,” said Peter Lake, chairman of the Texas Public Utility Commission which oversees ERCOT.
Lake testified in a Senate hearing in Austin Tuesday as the legislature continues to demand answers for the near-collapse of the Texas grid in February and now concerns about power supplies in the hot summer heat.
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“We have to make the grid more reliable and y'all sent us very clear legislation on that,” Lake told legislators.
ERCOT’s new road map includes plans to purchase more reserve power on days when the weather is uncertain and more unannounced testing of power plants to make sure they are ready to run.
But some power experts point out the plan is just a beginning point and some problems may go deeper than the fixes proposed.
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“We've got a plan. We've got some transparency but that doesn't change the fact that we're relying on nearly a third of our power plants that are more than 40 years old,” said Daniel Cohan, an energy expert at Rice University.
Cohan said ERCOT’s ability to fix aging power plants is limited because those plants are owned by private companies, and it's up to them to decide whether to build new ones or spend money on other things that could prevent future outages. Those could include items like backup fuel storage sites so power plants can keep running when gas supplies are short on the coldest days.
“In other states, some of these measures that would keep us more protected, keep us more reliable are mandated in Texas, it's really left to these private companies to choose what to do,” Cohan said.
ERCOT said Tuesday it would look at the need for more backup fuel storage.
NBC 5 Investigates went to the Midwest earlier this year to show how power companies there rely on storage preventing outages in much colder weather.
“You might have years where you don't need it, but when you do need it, it's incredibly valuable for you,” said Tom Metcalfe, the president of We Energies, the largest power generator in Wisconsin and a utility that’s been recognized as one of the most reliable in the country.
In Texas, the legislature did not require any new gas storage in laws passed recently to fix the grid. Lawmakers also did not require ERCOT to address serious forecasting errors NBC 5 Investigates highlighted in a report last month.
The report found ERCOT severely underestimated the amount of power needed in severe weather last winter and that some experts fear ERCOT’s summer predictions may be too optimistic.
Tuesday, ERCOT pledged to strengthen its forecasting and the organization's new chief said -- a rash of power plant breakdowns that left the state with short supplies in June may have just been a coincidence -- not a sign of more trouble ahead.
“As we see those outages ramp back down we have a good expectation for where we are headed later this summer - so it could just be a coincidence,” ERCOT interim CEO Brad Jones said.
“If this is this is sports. This is the playoffs to get through July and August when our air conditioners are running most,” Cohan said.
PUC commissioners told legislators they would be spending the next 60 days in work sessions and public forums and should have some changes to report by the end of the year. But some grid experts have told NBC 5 Investigates they believe many of the new regulations and recommendations will not be implemented in time for the next winter season.