AUSTIN — Texas’ grid operator on Friday released its predictions for peak electricity use in Texas for this winter that showed steep shortfalls in power capacity in an extreme event, despite not accounting for February’s deadly freeze.
The power demand projection known as the Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy was already facing criticism for using data that did not account for climate change and did not take into account weather and outage data from February’s deadly winter storm.
The main failure of the report, according to Texas A&M University professor Andrew Dessler, is that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas based projections of extreme demand on the 2011 winter event that left wide swaths of North Texas without power. Dessler, an atmospheric sciences professor, said the report shows that Texans have around a one-in-10 chance of seeing weather-related power outages this winter.
“One in 10 years seems to me to be not a great worst-case scenario,” Dessler said. “That means that there’s a 10% chance we’re going to do worse than that.”
The peak amount of electricity in the 2011 event was far below projections made for February’s winter storm. But even with a lower benchmark than what Texans saw just nine months ago, ERCOT predicted that any scenario with electric usage on par with the 2011 event coupled with widespread plant outages would cause blackouts.
“It’s a political document not reflective of reality,” said Doug Lewin, an Austin-based energy consultant, adding that ERCOT’s quiet release of the report late Friday “speaks volumes.”
When reached late Friday, ERCOT officials provided a statement noting that the assessment did not take into account enhancements electric companies made to their power plants in the aftermath of the winter storm. Those lessons learned might make things less dire than the report appeared to indicate.
“As part of our comprehensive planning, we also reviewed a number of low-probability, high-impact scenarios,” the statement said. “Making these scenarios available will allow better preparation for extreme possibilities. Generators across the state have made improvements in power plant weatherization.”
ERCOT faced withering criticism over its handling of the winter storm, which led to the deaths of at least 210 Texans. In the aftermath, state lawmakers cleaned house at the grid operator, completely revamped its board and called for the resignation of many of its top officials. Gov. Greg Abbott also called for the resignation of every one of his appointees to its oversight board, the Public Utility Commission.
New boards are in place, and the Legislature also passed bills requiring power plant owners to weatherize their equipment. ERCOT said the grid should see greater protections from winter weather because of weatherization.
As far as baseline electric usage goes, the report states that there is an adequate amount of power supply to meet Texans’ demands. It notes that some facilities that previously only ran in summer months have transitioned to year-round operations.
Dessler said ERCOT continues to make seasonal demand predictions without adequate input from experts and that a refusal to recognize climate change is affecting the agency’s ability to make accurate assessments.
“But there’s a real ‘rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic’ vibe to ERCOT energy policy, so I’m doubtful these things will make a huge difference,” Dessler said on Twitter. “Perhaps future actions will improve the resilience of the grid, but they’re not going to help this winter.”