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'It's absolutely extreme for early May': ERCOT warns of tight grid conditions ahead of weekend heat wave

State regulators have asked power providers to rush plant maintenance and re-connect to the grid.

SAN ANTONIO — The Electric Reliability Council of Texas warns that power grid conditions will be tight during the coming heat wave, especially because so many generation plants are offline for scheduled maintenance. 

Utilities typically make repairs and upgrades during the spring, before Texans turn down their air conditioners. ERCOT requires companies to complete this work by May 15. 

"You're not expecting a deep freeze an you're not expecting a heat wave then," said Doug Lewin, a power consultant and president of Stoic Energy. 

But this year is different. Temperatures will spike to near-record levels in the coming days.

"It's absolutely extreme for early May," Lewin said. "There's no other way about it."

As Texans prepare to crank their thermostats, about 30 percent of the state's thermal power capacity was offline for planned maintenance Thursday. 

Coal and natural gas facilities around the state are producing less energy than they could. One of the state's four nuclear units is not generating any electricity at all. 

A CPS Energy spokesperson says three of its units are currently down for planned maintenance. The utility says crews are "working long-hours, 7-days a week to support planned unit start-ups later in May."

"CPS Energy has enough capacity available to meet our community needs and will continue to closely monitor weather forecasts and generation availability across the state," the spokesperson said. 

Still, ERCOT has asked providers to rush their repair work and re-connect to the grid. 

Generation forecasts indicate many utilities plan to comply with the state's request. As of 10 p.m. Thursday, ERCOT expected about 17 gigawatts of power to be unavailable during peak demand, a nearly 3 gigawatt improvement from Monday's forecast for the same hour. 

Texans are expected to use about 70 gigawatts of electricity at peak on Monday at 5 p.m. 

Neither ERCOT nor Lewin say they expect widespread problems. 

"I would say the probability is pretty low," Lewin said. "If there were to be outages, they would likely not last very long."

But Lewin worries delaying or rushing maintenance on aging plants could create problems during more intense heat this summer.

"The less maintenance they do now, the higher the risk they'll have problems in July or August," he said. "Do they come out of outage, turn on, and then shut back down because the work wasn't done that needed to be done?"

Climate change all but ensures more problems related to extreme and unseasonable temperatures in coming years. Lewin says ERCOT should more heavily regulate plants' maintenance schedules to accommodate unseasonable temperatures. 

"Climate change is happening now. It matters. They need to study it, understand it, and change their practices to deal with it," Lewin said. "Not just ERCOT, but the state agriculture department... and others."

Texans also focus too heavily on boosting supply instead of managing demand, he says. Lewin harps that too many homes are energy inefficient, often built before modern construction codes became law. 

ERCOT, unlike CPS Energy, says it will not ask Texans to conserve energy this weekend.

The San Antonio utility provides tips for conservation here


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