ERCOT Still Urges Caution Friday, Weekend

Temperature Thursday hits high of 107


The Electric Reliability Council of Texas is still urging Texans to conserve power however they can.

Texans are urged to reduce their electric power consumption between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. over the weekend, when demand will approach or reach peak levels. NBC 5 meteorologists forecast a high of 106 on Saturday and 105 on Sunday. See the latest forecast here.

On Thursday, ERCOT , which manages the state's power grid, narrowly avoided ordering rotating outages for residential areas. Texans took it easier on the power grid Friday, with the energy alert status never rising above Level 1.

At Level 2, which was in effect Thursday, certain businesses are asked to scale down their power use. Rolling residential outages kick in at Level 3.

Texans are urged to reduce their electric power consumption between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. again Friday afternoon and over the weekend, when demand will approach or reach peak levels. NBC 5 meteorologists forecasted a high of 107 Friday, 106 on Saturday and 105 on Sunday. See the latest forecast here.

ERCOT set a new electricity demand record Wednesday -- 68,294 MW -- between 4 and 5 p.m. Prior to this year, the record was 65,776 MW, which was set Aug. 23, 2010.

Rolling outages avoided Thursday

On Thursday, ERCOT escaped having to resort to rotating residential outages by shedding large industrial and commercial users to abate near-record power demand.

Additionally, thousands of air-conditioners shut off Thursday as part of the TXU Energy iThermostat program. Customers who participate in the program saw their A/C cycled off for 15 minutes each hour between 3 and 6 p.m.

"We salute all customers who joined in this effort today, when rolling blackouts were a real possibility," the company said.

The shedding of large energy users on Thursday helped keep peak demand to no more than 66,815 megawatts between 4 and 5 p.m. ERCOT saw a record peak demand of 68,295 MW on Wednesday afternoon and had expected to approach or break that record Thursday, but instead the afternoon passed without a new record set for the first time in four days.

ERCOT canceled its Level 2 emergency alert and moved down to a Level 1 alert shortly after 6 p.m. The agency, which implements a Level 1 alert when reserves drop below 2,300 megawatts, will keep the Level 1 emergency in place until the operating reserves return to higher than 2,500 MW.

When demand eats into the next reserve threshold of 2,000 megawatts, a Level 2 alert is issued which prompts ERCOT to cut power to large industrial and commercial users who have agreed to outages in case of emergencies.

ERCOT moved to a Level 2 emergency alert just before 3 p.m. and said North Texas was at risk for rotating outages.

"There's multiple warning levels," Oncor Electric Delivery spokeswoman Megan Wright said. "We made it to [Level] 2B today. Rotating outages start at [Level] 3, so we came very close."

ERCOT said approximately 1,500 MW of load resources and emergency interruptible service resources were dropped as part of the Level 2 emergency procedures.

Fifty large companies across Texas were told to immediately cut back on power.

"What we do is pull back on nonessential equipment and functions," said Bill Schroeder, of Bell Helicopter in Fort Worth. "So we do some workarounds, but we're still going."

In Dallas, Oncor Electric Delivery contacted another 20 companies and asked them to also reduce consumption.

"Oncor does have a commercial load management program where people voluntarily agree to reduce their electric load during emergency situations like this," Wright said.

Should reserves drop below 1,750 megawatts, ERCOT calls for a Level 3 alert, which is when rolling blackouts may begin.

Some outages were reported across North Texas, mostly around Highway 121, on Thursday night, but they were not rolling outages mandated by ERCOT.

The possibility of rolling blackouts

The extreme heat was keeping much of Texas on a razor-thin margin between sufficient electric power to keep Texans cool, and an energy shortage that could mean rolling electric service interruptions, Saathoff said Tuesday.

ERCOT tries to keep 2,300 megawatts of generation capacity ahead of demand, but demand cut into that margin Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Saathoff said individuals can do do more than large companies.

"If each of those millions of consumers does just a little bit, it can certainly equal or probably exceed what those few hundred industrial plants can do," he said.

If demand were to reach less than 1,750 megawatts of available generation capacity, rolling power interruptions would begin, Saathoff said.

"It's just extremely tight," he said of the margin. "We've been bouncing between 2,000 and 2,300 megawatts."

Expect little, if any, warning if rolling outages are ordered.

"If rolling outages do happen, we get every minimal notice -- you know, 10 minutes, [a] couple minutes -- and then with that, we're supposed to start with the rolling outages," Oncor spokeswoman Jeamy Molina said.

Neighborhoods would be the first to lose power, for anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. Hospitals and other critical facilities would be the last to lose electricity.

"No one is exempt from this list, but there are places that are on a higher priority," Molina said.

The spikes in demand come as temperatures reach their highest point in the day. On Tuesday, it reached 110 degrees in North Texas, the hottest since 2000 and just three degrees shy of the all-time record set in 1980.

Saathoff said the increased demand this summer "is far beyond what we expected."

One megawatt of electricity is enough to power about 200 homes in Texas with air conditioners running in hot weather for long periods of time.

Conservation tips

Consumers can help by shutting off unnecessary lights and electrical appliances between 3 and 7 p.m., and delaying laundry and other activities requiring electricity-consuming appliances until later in the evening. Other conservation tips from the Public Utility Commission’s “Powerful Advice”  include:

  • Turn off all unnecessary lights, appliances, and electronic equipment.
  • When at home, close blinds and drapes that get direct sun, set air conditioning thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, and use fans in occupied rooms to feel cooler.
  • When away from home, set air conditioning thermostats to 85 degrees and turn all fans off before you leave. Block the sun by closing blinds or drapes on windows that will get direct sun.
  • Do not use your dishwasher, laundry equipment, hair dryers, coffee makers, or other home appliances during the peak hours of 3 to 7 p.m.
  • Avoid opening refrigerators or freezers more than necessary.
  • Use microwaves for cooking instead of an electric range or oven.
  • Set your pool pump to run in the early morning or evening instead of the afternoon.

Businesses should minimize the use of electric lighting and electricity-consuming equipment as much as possible. Large consumers of electricity should consider shutting down or reducing nonessential production processes.

NBC 5's Omar Villafranca and Kevin Cokely and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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