Seen Tuesday is Denton Energy Center on Jim Christal Road, where crews are working to supply Texas' power grid as more than power plants are unable to function due to below freezing temperatures statewide.

After three days of forced rotating power outages in Denton, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas has told city officials here to restore full service to residents and businesses.

“Our understanding based on what we are seeing from ERCOT is that generation across the state is increasing,” said Tony Puente, executive manager of utilities. “They are hopeful that wind out in West Texas will produce today and increase continue to prop generation in the state in the ERCOT system.”

But he warned during an online presentation on Thursday night that rotating outages that began on Monday in the early-morning hours could resume by 11 p.m. today if the statewide grid is overwhelmed again.

“Due to state regulations … we are required to comply with ERCOT requests to shed load,” Puente said. “The grid continues to be unstable. ERCOT is predicting there may be outages this evening and into tomorrow morning … because of freezing temperatures.”

He also repeated during the presentation what he told the Denton Record-Chronicle on Thursday morning — that decisions regarding rotating outages are not made by Denton Municipal Electric officials.

“All of that is controlled by ERCOT,” Puente said. “The city of Denton does not generate that power. All we get is how much we can add into our system. Since 12:30 this morning, we have been at full load.”

That means the statewide grid is supporting demand based on supply. If residents want to keep it that way, they should continue to be conservative when it comes to energy use.

“Until ERCOT lowers the alert level, it is imperative for people to conserve energy when their power is on,” said Ryan Adams, Denton’s director of customer service and public affairs. “Keep your thermostat lowered to 68 degrees, at least. Make sure your water heater is at 120 degrees or below. Unplug any devices you’re not using.”

He also said that residents shouldn’t use energy unnecessarily.

“Don’t turn on lights you don’t need. To an extent you can, minimize your use of large appliances, like dishwashers and washers and dryers. Even as something as opening your blinds during the day to let sunlight in helps.”

ERCOT, the primary operator of the state's power grid, declared an Energy Emergency Alert Level 3 early Monday morning, forcing rolling power outages that continued through Wednesday night.

“Yesterday, ERCOT directed utilities to begin restoring power,” said Ryan Adams, Denton’s director of customer service and public affairs. “For DME, we were able to discontinue our rolling outages. ERCOT is still at Level 3. They could, if demand goes up too much or supply drops down too much, direct utilities to begin rolling outages once more. Demand and supply change by the minute.”

Meanwhile, the Denton Energy Center continues to move electricity into the statewide grid.

“Right now, DEC has nine engines online,” Puente said. “That’s nine of the 12. Our staff is actively working on an additional engine that has a number of issues because of icing. As a result of some icing, there’s been some leaks we are having to repair.”

The Denton Energy Center, of which construction began in 2016, is a 225-megawatt natural-gas operation with 12 combustion engines and generators. It was proposed as a way to free Denton from coal-fired power. On Thursday during the online presentation, Puente emphasized that DEC does not benefit Denton customers.

“DEC does not provide direct energy to our customers,” he said. “As Denton Electric purchases power for us to meet our customer load, we are purchasing that power in the wholesale market and paying those prices.”

In June 2020 — the latest data was available Thursday— revenue was listed at more than $7.5 million. Debt service on the plant is about $25 million per year in the first few years of a 20-year obligation.

However, city officials say, the DEC was not built to benefit Denton customers but to sell energy to the statewide grid.

“Those nine engines produce about 160 megawatts,” Puente said. “We are certainly doing what we can to contribute to the ERCOT grid. Monday night, about 7 p.m., we had to shut it down because of fuel shortages. We were able to bring engines back online yesterday afternoon.”

Asked whether Denton Municipal Electric, or DME, could simply ignore ERCOT’s mandates and operate independently, Puente said the consequences would be serious.

“What would happen in that situation is that there would be considerable fines and penalties associated with that. What I can tell you is that we are responding to system outages. We have staged our staff here locally. Some of our staff are refusing to leave and go home because they want to be available to respond to system outages.”

DME has dispatched multiple crews to respond to outages, Puente said.

“What other utilities are doing or not doing in no way is dictating how DME is working through our plan and processes. We acknowledge the trying times that our customers are facing. Many of our employees are also DME customers, and some of them refuse to go home because they are working so hard to keep people’s power on.”

Also on Thursday, the city’s water infrastructure is stable after officials issued boil-water notices on Tuesday night, Adams said.

“We need to be conservative with energy and water. Try to minimize use of water as much as you can. People should not fill up their bathtubs, and they should continue with not dripping their faucets. Boil water for two minutes unless you’re using bottled water.”

The CodeRED alert was issued asking residents not to allow their faucets to drip — a common practice during extreme cold weather to prevent pipes from bursting. However, city officials have warned that boil-water notices always pose a risk to customers.

Denton receives its drinking water from Lake Ray Roberts and Lake Lewisville. The CodeRED alert will be canceled when water has returned to sufficient supply.

PAUL BRYANT can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @paulbryant_DRC.

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