Texas heat renews focus on increasing electricity supply

Texas heat renews focus on increasing electricity supply

By Kate Zaykowski | July 24, 2022

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

It can be unnerving when ERCOT, the state’s electric grid operator, issues a call for Texans to conserve power due to rising demand. Lately, it seems like this is a weekly occurrence which only increases Texans’ feelings of unease chipping away at their confidence in the state’s energy infrastructure.

Many Texans have unpleasant and traumatic memories of the February 2021 winter storm that left millions without power, water and heat for several days — and claimed the lives of 246 Texans.

The week of July 11 saw ERCOT—for the second time since May— make an appeal to Texans to conserve power and turn up their thermostats, and we haven’t even gotten to August, which is usually the state’s hottest month.

Most Texans already have experienced a record number of triple digit days this summer. This leads to higher electricity demand from consumers and stresses the grid when operating normally.

On July 11, for example, ERCOT reported an all-time peak demand record of 78.3 gigawatts, passing the previous record of 78.2 set July 8. These are not records to be celebrated, but they are instructive to understanding the energy needs of our state today and help us plan for the future.

These concerning developments have Texans asking why have there been so many grid scares in 2022? It’s important to keep a balanced and objective perspective.

In May, power generators are generally down for scheduled maintenance – six plants were down at once – so that heat wave brought Texas uncomfortably close to supply and demand intersecting. In the more recent case this week, lower wind on one day was a factor, but that’s always expected at times in July just as the planned plant maintenance in May.

Fortunately, solar-generated and wind power both at times helped alleviate stress on the grid when it was needed. In fact, during the first quarter of this year, 34% of all our power came from wind and solar. The bottom line is the state needs it all – every megawatt, every form and all types of energy for different inflection points from the blistering cold of winter to the sweltering heat of summer.

The Texas population is growing rapidly, thus increasing demand, so we know this challenge isn’t going away. We need long-term solutions to both increase energy production from all sources and of course, find ways to bring that power to Texas consumers.

Following the tragic and deadly winter storm, the governor, legislators and regulators worked to ensure this never happens again, passing legislation, appointing new regulators, and holding hearings.

Thankfully, we got through this past winter with no real issues but now, the summer heat is repeatedly bringing us close to the brink.

Having worked in and around the energy sector for several years, it’s clear we need more energy not less. Rather than our government picking winners and losers by creating advantages for one form of energy over another, we need to incentivize all commercially viable energy forms — and the infrastructure necessary to move that energy.

If we are truly a free market, the most efficient and reliable sources of power will prevail.

With unpredictable and extreme weather now a regular occurrence in the state, we must expect the unexpected and prepare for worst-case scenarios.

Policymakers and regulators have a difficult but vital job. Texas has the ninth largest economy in the world, and it is booming because of industries that rely on reliable, affordable electricity. People need air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter and they should be able to rely on our grid to perform.

Texas must focus on increasing overall supply of all kinds to meet growing demand. Anything else risks future grid collapse.

Kate Zaykowski is vice president, strategic communications, MWC Advocacy. She has 12 years of corporate communications experience, including for both public and private companies in the energy industry and at the Texas Railroad Commission.