Wind energy could help summer power supply

Photo courtesy of CNN

A. Lee Graham

Fort Worth can expect more reliable energy service this summer when soaring temperatures strain power plants statewide. Thanks to new transmission lines west of town, Fort Worth – while not immune from possible rotating outages – will enjoy steadier electricity service than most of the state, according to state energy officials. “Those lines increase the reliability and load-servicing capabilities of the Fort Worth area, so that’s going to be a significant improvement,” said Warren Lasher, director of system planning for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, grid operator for most of the state. Many of those power lines handle up to 345 kilovolts, the highest voltage coursing through any ERCOT power line. That’s critical since Dallas-Fort Worth continues to see more demand for power, Lasher said. Customer demand throughout the state once again is expected to strain Texas’ available power supply this summer. To help meet that demand, ERCOT continues upgrading its infrastructure to move wind power from West Texas to metropolitan areas through what’s known as Competitive Renewal Energy Zones (CREZ). The $7 billion CREZ initiative, enacted by the Public Utility Commission of Texas and administered by ERCOT, provides transmission line access for wind power development in the western and Panhandle regions of Texas. When the upgrades are complete by year’s end and ready to meet summer 2014 demand, ERCOT expects more energy to be available to meet mounting customer demand. Increasing its ability to move wind energy from West Texas is just one tool in ERCOT’s arsenal. Also expected to boost the state’s power supply are three gas power plants in Temple, Sherman and Llano County that are slated to begin operation sometime in 2014. Only one power plant came online since last summer – the Sandy Creek coal plant, which opened between Dallas and Waco. Until summer 2014, Texans may be asked to conserve usage during certain hours and face potential rotating outages. “That’s a rare event,” Lasher said. Despite rising customer demand, ERCOT did not implement rotating outages last year in which power is cut intermittently and briefly to specific geographic areas to help meet demand. “We do expect things to run smoothly, but we may have to ask for conservation,” said Robbie Searcy, an ERCOT spokeswoman. Conservation measures would include turning off swimming pool pumps and avoiding using electric clothes dryers between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.; those are considered hours of peak energy usage. Hoping to encourage customers to conserve, the agency has implemented a new program to reduce electricity usage during peak demand periods. Known as the Weather-Sensitive Emergency Response Service, the pilot initiative encourages individual customers or those who are part of a group to reduce power use by at least 100 kilowatts, which is equivalent to what 20 homes use during peak demand. Participants are paid based on how much they reduce demand. The program would be implemented when power reserves are less than 2,300 megawatts. Customers can follow a few steps to reduce grid demand between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Those include turning thermostats up by two or three degrees in the late afternoon; turning thermostats up before leaving home in the morning if away from home throughout and day; setting pool pumps to run late at night or early in the morning; and avoiding using stoves, clothes dryers and other large appliances during peak hours. More information is available at