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In the sweltering heat, Everett Gray wearily cranked up his thermostat on Wednesday to help ease the stress on the state’s electrical system.
Gray set the temperature to 80 degrees at their aunt’s house in Denton, where they kept their family’s 60-pound poodle. They also unplugged most appliances and closed blinds.
“I have this horrible mindset that I can fix the grid. So I just took a shower in the dark,” Gray said.
Twice this week, the state’s main electric grid operator has asked Texans to reduce their energy use. And in May, ERCOT asked Texans to save energy during a heat wave that coincided with six power plant outages.
Asking people to reduce their electricity use is the first action taken by ERCOT when the stability of the Texas electric grid is threatened. The network must maintain the balance between supply and demand at all times, and when it falls below its excess supply safety margin, the network manager takes extra precautions to avoid outages. The absolute demand record has already been broken several times this summer.
A spokesperson for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said some Texans responded to requests this week. Demand on the grid was reduced Monday by 500 megawatts at the time of the first conservation request; on Wednesday, demand was reduced by at least 100 megawatts. In the end, the network remained stable and ERCOT did not have to put in place serious emergency measures this week.
But strained grid conditions have become a source of anxiety, confusion and trauma, and conservation demands serve as a reminder that the state is still struggling to meet growing demand for electricity. Residents like Gray have responded to calls from ERCOT, while other Texans say grid stability is the responsibility of state leaders.
Gray, a student at the University of North Texas, is going to extreme lengths to help save energy as they are terrified of experiencing outages after the February 2021 winter storm, when millions of residents of Texas were without power for days in sub-zero temperatures. A combination of cold statewide weather and rising energy demand shut down power plants, along with the natural gas facilities that supplied them with fuel. Hundreds of people died.
This week, some Texans who need the power the most also wanted to help.
Inside a North Houston community center that served as a designated cooling facility for people to avoid the heat on Wednesday, Willetha Miller parked her walker, sat on a bench and sipped a Sprite while waiting for his return home. Next to her was a blue ‘beat the heat’ sign, sponsored by energy giant Reliant.
“I need air conditioning because I have lung problems,” she said.
Miller, 58, was only at the cooling facility briefly. She said she would try to do her part to save energy when she got home.
“When I get home, I might turn on the fan and see if I can handle it for a while,” she said.
Wednesday’s call for conservation came after a combination of higher-than-expected outages at coal and natural gas power plants, along with weak winds and scorching temperatures. Solar power, which has performed well this summer, also struggled on Wednesday to produce as much electricity as expected, ERCOT said, due to some dark clouds over solar farms in the western part of the country. Texas.
Texas faces extreme heat conditions this year, with much of the state experiencing temperatures over 100 degrees. Climate change has made the heat of Texas both hotter and more enduring. The average daily minimum and maximum temperatures in Texas have both increased by 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 125 years. The state just had its hottest December on record since 1889.
Miller said she struggles to breathe in hot weather, but she understands the grid operator needs the help of Texans to protect the state’s power grid.
“But there has to be something for people who have health issues,” Miller said. “Not everyone can get up and go to a cooling center. I’m on a walker – I can’t go to a cooling center all the time.
ERCOT’s call to conserve energy was voluntary, meaning some Texans could choose not to respond. Nicole Nagy, 40, said she already practices energy conservation in her everyday life and isn’t going to ‘ride the roller coaster’ of the unpredictability of stability network and ERCOT’s calls for conservation. The paralegal spent Wednesday afternoon in the shade of a large tree at Austin’s Barton Springs pool with one of her five children.
Pflugerville resident Chris Lee also didn’t change his energy habits on Wednesday. The 38-year-old jeweler said he usually tries to conserve energy to keep his electricity bill low, by raising the thermostat to 76 degrees before leaving the house. But he said the government shouldn’t have to ask Texans to take responsibility for protecting the power grid.
“People should be able to have the thermostat where they want it,” Lee said, while eating a meal from Chick-fil-A in the air-conditioned Barton Creek Square mall. “The government must find innovative ways to maintain the electricity grid or obtain [electricity] Besides. »
For residents of part of Southeast Texas, ERCOT’s conservation appeals are not a problem. They are part of a different electrical network: the Eastern Interconnection, the electrical network that covers the eastern part of the United States.
Sitting on the terrace of Mahoney’s Texish Bar & Restaurant in The Woodlands, Mike Hendricks, who was off on Wednesday and went shopping for his husky, Reaper, said he was not told to save electricity .
“I hadn’t heard anything about it today,” Hendricks said of the conservation appeal.
Hendricks said he kept his house thermostat at 69 degrees.
In Lubbock, across the state, Angela Flores said she takes conservation alerts seriously because she doesn’t want to deal with power outages.
Lubbock hasn’t always been part of the ERCOT network – the region joined ERCOT last May, three months after the winter storm. At the time, Lubbock officials said plans to join ERCOT had taken years to prepare and were too advanced to change.
Flores said she moved to Lubbock before the winter storm. When she read about the problems with ERCOT during the disaster, she said she felt like she had moved just in time to avoid them.
Now that Lubbock is on the ERCOT grid, she’s cautious.
“We kept the thermostat at 75 during the day, which isn’t great, but it’s better than the alternative,” Flores said. “I couldn’t imagine if we lost power – I would be worried about my son. It’s too hot to be without electricity.
Disclosure: The University of North Texas financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list here.
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