The lights will stay on this winter, according to Texas’ top energy officials.

The preparedness of Texas’ power grid was the focus of remarks made by Pablo Vegas, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, and Peter Lake, chair of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, at a Nov. 29 news conference.

Lake, whose agency regulates ERCOT, highlighted a variety of reforms that have been made in recent years, such the weatherization and inspection of power generation facilities. Weatherization allows power plants and generators to continue to provide service during hot and cold weather emergencies and may include measures such as insulation, coverings and heat tracing for pipes.

All generation facilities linked to ERCOT’s power grid must be weatherized, according to Senate Bill 3, which was created during the 2021 Texas Legislature. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law in June 2021.

Lake said ERCOT and the PUC have “dramatically increased and improved communication” with other state agencies, including the Texas Railroad Commission, the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Increased communication will help agencies plan ahead and guarantee access to important resources such as natural gas or coal, Lake said.

Increasing demand

Texas is growing in population by the size of Corpus Christi—over 317,000 people—each year, Vegas said. This means that the demand for electricity increased by 5,000 megawatts since last winter, he explained.

Between December 2022 and February 2023, demand is expected to reach 67,398 megawatts, according to ERCOT’s Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy report. In comparison, about 87,300 megawatts of power will be available during peak winter periods, the report said.

“The actions that we've taken over this last year and a half position us as best as we have been to operate the grid reliably,” Vegas said. “We expect, through the forecast and the likely scenarios that we'll see over the course of this winter, to be able to have enough supply to meet the reliability needs [of the power grid].”

ERCOT will also bring generators online more quickly in potential emergency situations and increase available energy reserves, Lake said.

“In the past 18 months, because we've had these reforms in place, we have avoided emergency conditions or blackouts eight times,” Lake said. “We know the reforms are working; we've seen the results.”

Lake emphasized that officials will continue to improve Texas’ power grid and find “a long-term solution” to outstanding issues.

Looking ahead

Under SB 3, the PUC was tasked with redesigning the state’s wholesale electricity market. According to the commission’s website, goals of the redesign include increased grid reliability and keeping costs low for ratepayers.

On Nov. 10, the PUC released a study completed by Energy and Environmental Economics, which outlines potential changes to strengthen the electricity market. The study is open for public comment through Dec. 15.

Commissioners and staff will consider feedback from the public when preparing the final market design plan, according to the PUC. Instructions on submitting public comments can be found here.

ERCOT and the PUC will also share information about the grid redesign with state lawmakers during the 88th Texas Legislature, which begins Jan. 10.

Energy regulators continue to face distrust and criticism across the state, largely due to the grid’s inability to withstand Winter Storm Uri in February 2021. Over two-thirds of Texans lost power during the storm and nearly half lost access to running water, according to previous reporting by Community Impact.

Issues such as blackouts, frozen generators and disruptions in access to natural gas are not expected this winter, Lake said. Texans faced similar problems during February 2011.

During high-demand periods, ERCOT may issue voluntary conservation appeals. Two appeals were issued in July, and Texans were asked to limit their energy consumption during a set time period by turning up the temperature in their homes, limiting the use of major appliances and turning off lights.

Conservation appeals are voluntary, meaning they do not require Texans to take action. They differ from emergency alerts, which are released when energy reserves are low.

There are three types of energy emergency alerts, according to ERCOT:
  • EEA 1: conservation needed. This alert is issued when reserves are below 2,300 megawatts and are not expected to recover within 30 minutes. At this point, ERCOT will access all available power supplies, which may include other power grids.
  • EEA 2: conservation critical. This alert is issued when reserves are below 1,750 megawatts and are not expected to recover within 30 minutes. At this point, ERCOT may ask its large industrial customers to have their power turned off in order to maintain power for the rest of the grid.
  • EEA 3: rotating outages in progress. This alert is issued when reserves are below 1,000 megawatts and are not expected to recover within 30 minutes. At this point, Texans can expect that their power will be turned off for a set period of time in order to reduce demand.
Emergency alerts will be shared on social media, the ERCOT website and app, and through news releases. Reserve conditions are considered “normal” when at least 3,000 megawatts of power are available.

Vegas and Lake also discussed plans and reforms to the state’s power grid during an Oct. 13 news conference, which was Vegas’ first public appearance after he took over as CEO of ERCOT. Vegas replaced Brad Jones, the agency’s interim leader, on Oct. 1.