Texans urged to conserve power amid dangerous heat wave

Soaring temperatures and a lack of rain this summer have caused drought conditions in nearly all of Texas’ 254 counties.

HOUSTON (CN) — The Texas grid operator urged residents to conserve power Monday afternoon, raising the specter of power outages with temperatures projected to reach 110 degrees Fahrenheit in Austin and San Antonio.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the flow of electricity to more than 26 million customers in the state, or about 90% of the state’s electrical load, issued a “conservation call” on Sunday as a heat wave shows no signs of abating this week.

ERCOT advised Texas residents and businesses to raise their thermostats a degree or two, avoid running their washers, dryers and pool pumps, and unplug unnecessary electronics by 2 p.m. at 8 p.m. Monday.

“This notification is issued when the projected reserves may fall below 2300 MW [megawatts] for 30 minutes or more. …ERCOT emphasizes that the call for conservation is limited to the hours of 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.,” the network manager said in a statement.

National Weather Service branches in Houston, Dallas and central Texas have issued excessive heat advisories, warning of the possibility of heat-related illness for people engaged in strenuous outdoor activities or who do not have air conditioning in their home. They advised Texans to drink plenty of water, limit outdoor activities early or late in the day, wear light clothing and sunscreen, and watch elderly family members.

“Temperatures will reach up to 110 degrees [Fahrenheit] and heat indices could reach 112 in isolated locations,” according to a Monday forecast from the Austin/San Antonio office of the National Weather Service.

Soaring temperatures and a lack of rain this summer have caused drought conditions in nearly all of Texas’ 254 counties except a handful at its southern tip on the Rio Grande, the state’s border with Mexico.

The state’s daily electricity demand typically peaks in August, but usage spiked earlier this year in part due to the state’s rapid population growth — Texas gained nearly 4 million population from 2010 to 2020, more than any other state, according to US Census data.

ERCOT said light winds are also to blame for the lack of reserve power capacity.

The state’s wind turbines have the capacity to generate 35,152 megawatts of electricity – one megawatt can power about 200 homes on a hot summer day.

But ERCOT said that from 2-3 p.m. Monday, the “tightest time” for power demand, the turbines are expected to produce just 2,698 megawatts, 8% of their capacity.

To prevent a catastrophic Texas grid outage, ERCOT imposed blackouts in February 2021 amid freezing temperatures caused by winter storm Uri, leaving millions of people without power for days. Hundreds of people have died from hypothermia and some from health complications after losing power to vital medical equipment.

In response, Texas lawmakers passed regulations requiring power producers to air-condition their plants.

Welcoming the legislation during a signing ceremony in June 2021, Governor Greg Abbott said“Everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid.”

But Beto O’Rourke, Abbott’s Democratic opponent in the November 2022 gubernatorial election, on Monday blamed the Republican governor for the state’s latest power problems.

“We can’t rely on the grid when it’s hot. You can’t count on the network when it’s cold. We can’t rely on Greg Abbott. It’s time to vote it out and fix the grid,” O’Rourke tweeted.

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