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ERCOT says there was no grid emergency during last weekend's call for conservation when 6 power plants tripped offline

Even though six power plants tripped offline, ERCOT officials said last week's call for conservation was not an "alert".

TEXAS, USA — On Friday, ERCOT sent out a request for electricity conservation after six Texas power plants tripped offline. ERCOT had also told power plants, which were down for maintenance, that they must get back online and cut that maintenance short. 

Then, on Tuesday, ERCOT CEO Brad Jones told reporters the grid was never actually in danger:

"This wasn't a conservation alert or a conservation appeal, it was just a request to Texan's to help us out over the weekend," Jones said. "It wasn't that we were in a dangerous situation, it was that we were doing everything possible to keep the grid reliable."

ERCOT had released the following press release last Friday: 

With unseasonably hot weather driving record demand across Texas, ERCOT continues to work closely with the power industry to make sure Texans have the power they need. This afternoon, six power generation facilities tripped offline resulting in the loss of approximately 2,900 MW of electricity. At this time, all generation resources available are operating. We’re asking Texans to conserve power when they can by setting their thermostats to 78-degrees or above and avoiding the usage of large appliances (such as dishwashers, washers and dryers) during peak hours between 3pm and 8pm through the weekend.

How close was the grid to a dangerous situation?

The demand for power on Friday afternoon rose to around 65,000 Megawatts. On Tuesday, Jones said available power was briefly less than 3000 Megawatts from failing to meet that demand at the time. 

PUC Chairman Peter Lake said ERCOT's current goal is have around 23 percent more power available than the amount in use.   

While a margin of 3000 MW is less than ideal, ERCOT does have several options to increase the margin before moving into an Energy Emergency Alert. There are three stages of alerts, and each can be found here. ERCOT can add several thousand Megawatts to the grid as they move through each stage. 

Both Lake and Jones stated ERCOT purposefully called for conservation earlier than in past years. 

"It's important to note that in the past, under similar circumstances, no conservation notice would have been issued. This was ERCOT being proactive about tight grid conditions," Lake said. "We were tested last weekend and our reforms worked."

What happened to Texas power plants?

Jones would not tell reporters Tuesday why six Texas power plants went offline before the weekend. He said ERCOT would have some information on generation outages on Thursday, but would not release more specifics during the press conference. 

"Bottom line. We really don't have any concerns specifically with the various reasons. It was a coincidence with a number of units coming off at the same time. But the coincidence happened at or near peak (demand)," Jones said. 

He also said there were "a few smaller units " that tripped offline. 

Fortunately, 6 News was able to speak to Texas Competitive Power Advocates Executive Director Michele Richmond to learn more about the situation Texas power plants were facing at the time. 

On May 11, ERCOT issued an Operating Condition Notice asking power plant owners and generators to postpone planned maintenance and to return from maintenance already in progress. Richmond said some of the plants that went offline still needed to complete that maintenance. She also said some maintenance was scheduled more than a year in advance. 

"Generators are provided two time frames to schedule maintenance. Two and a half months in the spring and two months in the fall," Richmond said. 

Richmond confirmed that at least two of the power plants that went offline didn't get to complete maintenance.

"I know there were a couple of generators that have rescheduled their outages a couple of times in response to these requests (by ERCOT) and I belief at least two that tripped were those resources," Richmond said. "Doing that maintenance is really crucial."

Richmond also said ERCOT is running plants harder than before to ensure their is enough power on the grid and meeting the demand is becoming increasingly difficult in Texas.  

"I think what this shows is a larger problem that the PUC is dealing with. We don't have enough installed dispatchable generation capacity," Richmond said. "When it's cloudy and we don't have the solar the grid expects or the wind drops off, we need generators that can be turned on and turned off at command."

Richmond said ERCOT is having to squeeze timelines for the existing fleet to get things done and she worries this will not be sustainable in the future. 

PUC Chairman Lake told reporters Tuesday the PUC is working on phase two of a plan to change the Texas power market and attract more power generation in the state. He said that plan would need to be sent to the Texas legislature in 2023. 

"The blue print adopted in December includes two components. The load-side reliability mechanism and the backstop reserve service. We are in the process of building those market designs out but both of those will put new steel in the ground and will incentivize new dispatchable generation and resources," Lake said. 

Lake said they will be able to deliver those "in the next session." 

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