ERCOT CEO gives the grid an 'A' for how it handled the record summer heat and demand

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Friday, September 22, 2023
ERCOT says grid will meet demand in fall, but concerned for winter
Texas' power grid saw some struggles during the hot months. Now that temperatures are coming down, ERCOT's CEO says cool weather could still be an issue.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- After a record-breaking summer, the CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas' (ERCOT) reflected on the struggles from this summer, and what needs to be done to ensure the lights stay on.

This summer, ERCOT called for nearly a dozen conservation efforts. There was also an emergency earlier this month, the first of its kind since a winter storm crippled the state's grid nearly three years ago.

With some lawmakers considering the federal government getting involved, Eyewitness News talked to ERCOT CEO Pablo Vegas about the state of the grid. Here's what he had to say to some of our questions.

Q: How do you think ERCOT and the state grid held up this summer?

A: "I think this was one of the most challenging summers that Texans and the grid has had to deal with for many years. I think the grid held up really well, considering what a unique and difficult summer we had. There were definitely a lot of challenges throughout. We saw several days when things got quite tight, and we had to ask and lean on Texans for their help to conserve energy. But, overall, we got through those difficult days together, and I think the grid held up really well."

Q: What grade would you give ERCOT's performance this summer?

A: "When the test was as hard as it was and you get through it as safely and reliably as we did, I have to give us an 'A' on that. I think everybody together, and it's not just ERCOT; it's all of the market participants. It's the power generators, it's the transmission operators, and it's the consumers who responded when we asked them to. Everybody participated and did what they needed to do, and I think everybody deserves an 'A' in terms of getting through that."

Q: When it comes to this fall, there's a recent report where it looks like the state has enough energy to meet demand, but there are situations where there could be blackouts. Some Texans may think, 'OK, we understand the summer, with the heat and needing the supply, but how could there possibly be issues in the fall?' Could you explain that to our viewers?

A: "The report you're referring to is the SARA report, the seasonal assessment resource adequacy that we just published this week. What it does is it puts out potential scenarios. It's not a forecast, to be clear. It's not a forecast of what we think is going to happen. These are just scenarios that we model in order to assess how the grid will perform under these scenarios. What we look at is scenarios of all types. Where we have a hotter than normal day, or we have very lower renewable performance for a day, and in those scenarios, we see situations where we might have tightness on the grid. That's something that the scenarios reveal, but under normal expectations, what we call the 50th percentile, what we expect, we expect to have enough energy to meet all the demand from Texans this fall."

Q: The state climatologist, and also our meteorologist, says it's not going to get cooler anytime soon. The Texas population has risen by a million in more than just a few years. How, moving forward, does the state energy supplier handle those types of situations?

A: "It's really a blessing and challenge at the same time working through the incredible growth that Texas is experiencing. Texas is doing great. The economy is booming. People are moving to Texas. That's all good, but with that comes the challenge of making sure the infrastructure can keep up. We are working closely, hand in hand, with the Public Utility Commission and with policymakers to make sure we continue to create policies and to set up the grid to be able to grow in a balanced way. That's the key. We need to be able to grow the grid in a balanced way to meet that demand. What I mean by balanced is we need to look at not only renewables that we see growing every year on the grid, which is great, we love to have that growth and support, but we also need to see the growth of dispatchable generating resources which are your traditional natural gas plants, or nuclear facilities. Also, we need to continue to invest in programs like demand response and energy efficiency, as well as in the transmission system. Across the board, we need to invest in the infrastructure in order to meet that incredible growth that we're seeing here in Texas."

Q: Is there ever going to be a season, a fall, spring, summer, or winter, where there will not be tightness on the grid?

A: "I think that as we continue to make investments into all the facets of the grid that I mentioned earlier, I think we're going to see the opportunity to be able to meet that growth and continue to position the electric grid to be as reliable as Texans expect it to be."

Q: A congressman out of San Antonio and Austin a few weeks ago said that he's going to draft legislation that would require the state to join the national grid. He said it'll make it more reliable and better for consumers. What are your thoughts on the idea? Would it, in fact, make it a better deal for Texans?

A: "Texas gets a lot of benefit for having an independent electric grid from the rest of the United States. We are able to make decisions on how to operate this grid very quickly. We don't have to look up to the federal government and get their approval when we want to make changes. A good example of that is following Winter Storm Uri, one of the key issues the legislature dealt with was building a weatherization program requiring power plants and transmission operators to weatherize and not have issues when the weather got very cold. They were able to get that passed and implemented in a year's time, and we're already going into this winter on a second iteration of a set of requirements as it relates to weatherization. The rest of the country is still debating whether or not or how to meet their weather requirements. So, one of the key benefits we get is we can make decisions on operating our grid in order to meet Texas' needs very quickly, and that's something that could potentially be lost if we were under the jurisdiction of the federal government."

SEE ALSO: Should ERCOT be immune from lawsuits sparked by deadly winter storm?

Q: Concern with power and grid is not just demand and weather. It's also attacks. I know that's not just a concern in Texas but across the country. Have there been any attacks on the grid at all? What is being done so the grid is not vulnerable to those types of attacks?

A: "Keeping our grid secure from a physical and cyber perspective is one of our top priorities every day at ERCOT. We have dedicated teams on both fronts, from physical and cybersecurity, who are working closely with cyber agencies across the country. The federal government, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Energy, we work very closely with them to help protect the infrastructure here in Texas as well as the United States at large. It's one of the things we consider one of the most important facets of operating our grid reliably."

Q: Have there been any recent attacks or situations where there's been problems because of this?

A: "No, we've really done a great job of managing that risk here at ERCOT. We don't rely and relax on the fact that we had a good week, a good day, or a good year. It's something that every single day, we have to be focused on and making sure we keep the grid safe and reliable from cyber criminals."

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