(Last updated: February 15, 2:00 p.m.)
Below freezing temperatures continued Monday in Texas, with state officials calling for conservation and issuing rolling blackouts to preserve electric service in the state. Wholesale energy prices skyrocketed as demand soared.
Last week, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the electricity grid for the majority of the state, warned usage could set a winter record Monday and Tuesday. Temperatures fell even lower than expected. By mid-afternoon, they were sitting at 13 in Dallas, 23 in Houston, 7 in Wichita Falls, and 17 in Waco. Temperatures aren’t expected to exceed freezing in Dallas until Friday, according to weather.com.
On Sunday, ERCOT issued conservation guidelines because of the cold. “We are experiencing record-breaking electric demand due to the extreme cold temperatures that have gripped Texas,” said ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness. “At the same time, we are dealing with higher-than-normal generation outages due to frozen wind turbines and limited natural gas supplies available to generating units.”
ERCOT asked Texans to take the following steps:
- Turn down thermostats to 68-degrees.
- Close shades and blinds to reduce the amount of heat lost through windows.
- Turn off and unplug non-essential lights and appliances.
- Avoid using large appliances (i.e., ovens, washing machines, etc.).
The council asked businesses to minimize the use of electric lighting and electricity-consuming equipment as much as possible and urged large consumers of electricity should consider shutting down or reducing non-essential production processes.
ERCOT’s request was echoed by the Public Utilities Commission of Texas. “This record cold is not only compelling customers to increase their power usage to stay warm, it’s also icing wind turbines and straining our natural-gas powered resources,” said Commissioner Arthur D’Andrea. “With the grid pinched like that, ‘demand response’ in the form of reduced consumption is an essential shared action.”
On Monday, ERCOT took matters a step further, instituting rolling outages at 1:25 a.m. By doing that, it expected to shed as much as 10,500 megawatts (MW) of customer load, enough to service about 2 million residences. In a press release announcing the measures, ERCOT said the extreme weather caused generating units across fuel types to trip offline and become unavailable.
“Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now,” Magness said in the press release.
Rotating outages of an hour or less were expected throughout the morning and could be reinstated until warmer weather returns.
Following are some tips for weathering power outages:
- Don’t open your refrigerator. Food can maintain its temperature in a closed refrigerator for about four hours without electricity. Freezers can stay cold for up to 48 hours. If in doubt about any of your food, get rid of it.
- Dress in layers.
- Do not use a gas stove or oven to heat your residence.
- Check on neighbors, particularly older residents.
- Unplug appliances to protect against surges when power is restored.
Wholesale electricity prices spike
The high demand triggered increases in the price of wholesale electricity. Reuters reported spot prices Monday morning at more than $9,000 per megawatt hour – up from pre-storm pricing of less than $50/mWh.
A similar spike in Aug. 12, 2019, immediately drove up prices for Texas electricity customers whose energy plans were tied directly to the wholesale rate. The wholesale price eventually filtered down to retail prices.
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