2011 was a challenging year for the operators of the Texas electricity grid. 2012, however, isn’t likely to be any easier. This according to ERCOT who holds the responsibility of insuring the reliability of the Texas grid. There are a large number of power plants that are scheduled to be decommissioned over the coming months and still others that will be switched on later than initially expected.
Texas consumers have already felt the impact of a loss in electricity capacity. In 2011 significant electricity capacity was lost due to plant closings. The problem was made worse when freezing temperatures caused mechanical failure at several power stations. Texas had to take the unusual step of importing electricity from the Mexican electricity grid.
ERCOT is proactively reaching out to electricity operators within the Texas grid and asking them to confirm the accuracy of expected go-live dates for projects that will begin contributing electricity to the grid. Texas will have to monitor their power reserve margins, more closely than ever.
The challenges being faced by ERCOT right now are a complex mix of unprecedented weather behavior, economic pressures, and a set of new environmental protection agency rules that could lead to existing power plants being turned off because they will not be compliant with the new rules. The sharp drop in Texas electricity rates in recent years has lead to less money being invested in new production.
2011 will likely be remembered in Texas for weather extremes the likes of which have not been seen in living memory. The weather challenges faced by the Texas electricity grid started early in the year as February saw an ice storm that effectively shut down transportation and kept Texans in their homes where they turned on their heaters and demanded record electricity output from the grid. The record demand along with weather-related failures at certain key points in the power generation infrastructure forced ERCOT to implement controlled blackouts.
This was followed later in the year by record high temperatures that again taxed the grid to a straining point. In addition to the extreme temperatures, 2011 is also notable for the continuation of an historic drought in Texas as wells as unrelenting wildfires.
The timing of the harsh onslaught of natural disasters is somewhat ironic considering that while dealing with these the Texas electricity system is also beginning to realize the impact of recent new EPA rules. The true impact of the new rules has been debated for a while but the time is rapidly approaching when the theoretical impact is giving way to real life impact as electricity plants that are unable to meet the new rules are closing down at precisely the time when Texas is struggling to generate enough electricity to meet demand. The impact of the new rules is not being felt just in Texas. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), the organization in charge of maintaining the reliability of the North American grid, is lobbying the Obama administration for more time to comply with the new regulations in order to prevent possible electricity disruptions.