The Heat is On: Utility companies prepare for the worst
By LPR Staff
As oppressive heat continues to bear down on Central Texas, area utility providers are asking customers to take steps to avoid making already-trying times worse.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) warned last week that spiking power usage as a result of the broiling heat had stressed the state’s powe
r grid to such an extent that initiation of “rolling blackouts” was likely. Under such an emergency situation, electricity providers, including the City of Lockhart and Bluebonnet Electric Co-op, are forced to shed a percentage of their power load, which requires cutting power to customers for periods of up to 15 minutes.
The last time ERCOT experienced such a strain was during last February’s winter weather event, when providers across the state were forced to cut power usage to offset both reduced production when power plants and lines were damaged by ice storms, and increased consumption as residents cranked up their heaters to fight the cold.
This summer, the opposite is true, and customers across the state are taxing their air conditioners to capacity and beyond to fight the ongoing heat wave.
“The good thing about the increased consumption in the summer months is that we know it’s coming, and ERCOT has already forecast for it,” said Will Holford, the Manager of Public Affairs for Bluebonnet. “And even though last week the consumption was above what was forecast, ERCOT has told us this week that they aren’t projecting having to issue any emergency alerts this week.”
Still, Holford said, it is important that customers remember to conserve energy as much as possible, particularly during the peak hours of 3 – 7 p.m., when the days are at their hottest and electricity consumption soars.
A news release distributed by Lockhart City Manager Vance Rodgers on Monday echoed Holford’s concerns, and reminded customers that if “rolling blackouts” become necessary, little warning is given to providers before ERCOT orders them to start shedding the load.
“[We have] no control over these mandated electrical load shed events,” he wrote. “The City of Lockhart has four electrical feed sections that are subject to these rotating outages. Less than five minutes advance notice is given prior to such events.”
However, prior to ERCOT calling for the “rolling blackouts,” there are warning signals that the utility companies receive, pass along to their customers and ask their customers to heed.
At a “Level 1” emergency stage, ERCOT institutes a “power watch alert,” suggesting that while consumption is still within forecasted levels, there is a risk to the electrical grid of overusage. It is at the Level 1 stage that most providers agree it is the most important for customers to actively conserve energy.
Such conservation measures include not turning on unnecessary lights or appliances, avoiding running dish washers or doing laundry during peak hours, and setting air conditioners to temperatures of 80 degrees or more.
“During the summer, air conditioners account for between 60 and 80 percent of household utility consumption,” Holford said. “And when it’s as hot as it’s been, those HVAC units have to work even harder. So setting the thermostat a little bit higher than you normally would will help take the pressure off that HVAC unit and use less power.”
At Level 2, ERCOT asks operators to drop large commercial and industrial loads, most often to customers that are under contract to have their service interrupted during such an emergency event.
“Rolling blackouts” are triggered at Level 3. While Holford said there is usually some warning before the required load sheds, most of that warning comes through the transition from Level 1 to Level 3, and can offer as much as a few hours lead-time to notify customers of the looming possibilities. However, after a Level 3 alert is activated, providers have only moments to respond.
To that end, both the City of Lockhart and Bluebonnet Electric Co-op have heightened their online presence these last weeks, in an effort to make customers aware as quickly as possible if an emergency situation arises.
The City of Lockhart website can be found at www.lockhart-tx.org. Bluebonnet Electric Co-op is online at www.bluebonnetelectric.coop. Current updates to the area’s power demands and threats of emergency can also be tracked via the Post-Register at www.post-register.com. You can also follow breaking news with the Lockhart Post-Register on Facebook.