AUSTIN, Texas (KTRK) -- Texas' power grid operator reassured the conservation notice it gave to millions of customers heading into the weekend did not signify emergency conditions despite six generation facilities tripping offline.
The leaders of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, and the Public Utilities Commission were front and center on Tuesday to also address its summer assessment, which stated that the agency expects a record for electricity demand from June through September. That demand, they said, will be met as ERCOT urged power providers to delay maintenance, so the electricity continues to flow.
"The grid is more reliable than it ever has been before," ERCOT interim CEO Brad Jones said.
Jones, who was flanked by Texas PUC chairman Peter Lake, explained the conservation request, which urged Texans to hold off on using large appliances and set thermostats no lower than 78 degrees during a five-hour peak period on Saturday and Sunday, was the result of reforms that transitioned ERCOT from "a crisis-based model to a reliability-based model."
Lake and Jones explained a conservation notice in the past would have come at the last minute. However, the notice was anticipatory given six facilities went offline Friday afternoon, along with expected soaring temperatures during the weekend.
They admitted that "communication can always be better" to convey these needs to Texans still wary of the 2021 winter storm.
"Conservation is a good thing," Jones said, making his case to customers for energy-saving regardless of grid conditions.
As for why the facilities went offline, ERCOT didn't immediately address it at Tuesday's news conference but promised to provide an update on the grid operator's website on Thursday.
Furthermore, Jones and Lake said the reforms made to the electric grid since the winter storm will ensure Texans won't have issues with their electricity this summer.
"We feel very confident about our position this summer," Lake declared.
Daniel Cohan Ph.D., a civil and environmental engineering professor at Rice University, said he agrees with that stance to a certain extent.
"I think they're right," said Cohan. "If we get a typical summer, then we'll be just fine."
He attributes a lot of that confidence to the fact that the state has increased its reserve power supply over the last few years.
"We've added so many new wind and solar farms that have been outpacing how quickly we've been adding new demand into the grid," he said. "We're heading into the summer in a better position than we have the past few years."
Cohan's largest fear of any grid failures comes from extreme temperatures. He said higher-than-expected temperatures would lead to higher demand, less wind, and the potential for plants to go offline.
He used 2011 as his comparison, as that year saw the most extreme heat and drought we've experienced in recent years.
"What concerns me even more as an atmospheric scientist is that they haven't imagined what if we get a heatwave more intense than 2011," Cohan explained. "We're still not nearly prepared enough for the type of heatwave that could hit us."
That being said, Cohan is optimistic no blackouts caused by grid failure this summer would be as prolonged, or widespread, as the ones we experienced during the winter storm of 2021.
"I can't foresee a scenario in which a third of the supply would go down as it did last February," he said. "That's what drove (those) widespread blackouts."