AUSTIN, Texas — As temperatures rise this summer, Texans could be left in the dark. New data shows Texas’ electricity grid might not keep up with demand.
“On the hottest days of summer, there is no longer enough on-demand, dispatchable power generation to meet demand in the ERCOT system,” said Peter Lake, the chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT).
He said the state will rely on renewables like wind and solar to keep the lights on, especially after 9 p.m.
“This is not an operational issue. This is a supply and demand issue,” Lake said. “We will continue to use every tool available to keep the lights on and the ACs running this summer, but we do not have any control over wind or sun.”
As the population of Texas grows, so does the demand for energy. Lake said over the past 14 years, Texas’ power supply grew less than 2%, while the population grew 24%.
Last summer, Texans were asked to conserve energy twice. No new power plants have been brought onto the grid since then.
“The existing generators we’ve got are the ones that we’re going to be operating with this summer,” Lake said. “You can’t build a new generator in anything less than a couple of years, so we’re operating with the same grid we had last summer. And if you look back to July 11 and July 13, when we issued calls for conservation, every generator that could operate in Texas was operating on those days. And our reserves were tight enough that we needed to ask for conservation, and Texans responded, and we saw it in the data, and that was a tremendous help. This year, we have the same amount of generators with a lot more Texans.“
After the deadly winter storm in 2021, the state legislature passed two bills that were intended to make the grid more reliable. But energy expert Ed Hirs said the legislation missed the mark.
“What Chairman Lake and the CEO of ERCOT just pointed out is that Senate Bill 2 and Senate Bill 3 from the last legislative session were totally ineffective at bringing new generation to the grid,” Hirs said.
Two years later and the Senate is once again trying to increase the grid’s reliability. One bill would incentivize companies to build new fossil fuel power plants. But Hirs said the legislation doesn’t have teeth and leaves behind older power plants that aren’t getting enough money to stay on the grid. Because of this, Hirs estimates older power plants will leave the grid before more generation is added to it, leaving Texas in an even worse pinch.
“The urgency to act is now,” said Pablo Vegas, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). “The urgency is high, and we need to make changes soon in order to get us on a trajectory where the market design incentivizes building more dispatchable generation supply.”
After the last session, Gov. Greg Abbott said the grid was fixed. Since then, he and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have said there’s more work to do as Texas grows.
But Hirs said the legislature has not given the PUCT and ERCOT the tools they need to get this right, and that’s what Lake and Vegas insinuated on Wednesday.
“They were essentially throwing [the governor] and the Legislature under the bus today,” Hirs said.
Because the grid might not keep up with demand, Texans could be asked to conserve energy on the hottest days this summer and prices could rise.
“The longer this goes on, the longer we don’t build backup generation or add batteries to the grid... we’re going to be playing ERCOT weather roulette,” Hirs said.