ERCOT reveals plan to improve power grid reliability

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Tuesday, July 13, 2021
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Republican Gov. Greg Abbott recently demanded aggressive action from state utility regulators to shore up the power grid.

Now, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, is revealing its plan to address improvements.

On Tuesday, ERCOT released a 60-item roadmap it said will be updated regularly through the end of the year. The council says it includes both existing and new initiatives.

Here are a few of the items, according to ERCOT:

  • Taking a more aggressive approach by bringing more generation online sooner if it's needed to balance supply and demand. The grid operator is also purchasing more reserve power, especially on days when the weather forecast is uncertain.
  • Requiring CEO certifications. After a rule change, all market participants who own or operate generation resources and/or transmission/distribution power lines will be required to submit a letter signed by their CEO twice a year certifying their companies have completed their weatherization preparations to protect the electric grid for the summer and winter seasons.
  • Adding new requirements for generation owners. ERCOT is proposing a new market rule that requires generators to provide operational updates more frequently.
  • Assessing on-site fuel supplies. ERCOT is reviewing the need for on-site fuel supplies for some generators.
  • Performing unannounced testing of generation resources. ERCOT says this testing helps verify that generators have provided accurate information about their availability.
  • Addressing transmission constraints in Rio Grande Valley. ERCOT and the PUC (Public Utility Commission) are initiating a process to address RGV transmission limitations and provide increased market access for resources in the Valley. ERCOT says this will improve reliability for customers during normal conditions and high-risk weather events.

ERCOT and grid woes continue to be top of mind for Texans.

At least 220 generators were offline the week of June 14 when council officials called for Texans to conserve power.

While ERCOT told ABC13 that many of those plants were offline for repairs, most simply gave the regulators no clear reason for why they couldn't produce power. When we asked ERCOT officials about the summer, they couldn't say for sure that there would be enough power to get us through the hot season.

But ERCOT first came under fire due to February's deadly blackout in Texas. More than 4 million people lost power when temperatures plunged into single digits over Valentine's Day weekend, icing power generators and buckling the state's electric grid. State officials say they have confirmed at least 151 deaths blamed on the freeze and resulting outages, but the real toll is believed to be higher.

ERCOT manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million customers in Texas. That represents about 90% of the state's electric load. ERCOT is also overseen by the PUC.

Last week in a letter to the PUC, Abbott directed the commission to have ERCOT incentivize the development and maintenance of additional natural gas-, coal- and nuclear-powered generating capacity.

Abbott also directed the PUC to require solar- and wind-powered generators to compensate customers for the cost of their unavailability; instruct ERCOT to establish a maintenance schedule for gas, coal and nuclear electric generating plants; and order ERCOT to accelerate the development of transmission projects to improve connectivity between existing and new power plants and areas needing power.

"The objective of these directives is to ensure that all Texans have access to reliable, safe, and affordable power, and that this task is achieved in the quickest possible way," Abbott said in the letter. "Through clear communication, transparency, and implementation of these critical changes, the PUC and ERCOT can regain the public's trust, restore ERCOT's status as a leader in innovation and reliability, and ensure Texans have the reliable electric power they expect and deserve."

That contrasts with his June 8 declaration that the Republican-controlled Legislature's reforms "fix all of the flaws" that lead to the blackout.

At the time of Abbott's declaration, energy experts thought the Legislature's reforms were inadequate.

In his letter, Abbott said that while the Legislature had overhauled the ERCOT board of directors, strengthened power plant weatherization requirements and improved communications, more was needed.

"While these laws significantly reform Texas' energy and electric power market, more can be done to increase power generation capacity and to ensure the reliability of the Texas power grid," Abbott's letter stated.

The letter presumes that the non-renewable power sources of gas, coal and nuclear provide reliable power.

Texans were asked to conserve power less than a week after the declaration. At the time, Texans were asked to raise thermostats to 78 degrees and limit the use of electric appliances.

13 Investigates: No incentive, no clear electric savings, ERCOT can't define voluntary compliance

The best an ERCOT spokesperson could tell 13 Investigates was that they know it helps, but at this point "we don't know how much."

ERCOT names new, temporary leader 2 months after deadly Texas winter storm

State leaders continue to probe what went wrong with the power grid during the Feb. winter storm and what can be done to keep it from happening again.

Texas power grid was 4 minutes from catastrophic failure: ERCOT

The state was dangerously close to a long-term outage that would have left millions of Texans in the dark, for not days, but weeks. In the video, ABC13 data analyst Keaton Fox is making it easier for you to understand exactly what happened when Texas entered the "danger zone" during the start of the winter storm.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.