Blog: Texas Power Grid Makes Adjustments for COVID-19

 

ERCOT conducts body temperature screenings of individuals before they are permitted in the control rooms.

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Like the rest of Texas, ERCOT has had to make significant adjustments during March and April in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. ERCOT performs an essential public function and facilitates and oversees an electric grid that is essential to modern life. Accordingly,  ERCOT’s facilities — including its stakeholder meeting location in South Austin — have been physically closed for much of this period, and remain so as of this writing. ERCOT’s stakeholder meetings are instead being conducted via teleconference with a priority placed on time-critical stakeholder measures and ERCOT reporting on its pandemic response.

ERCOT Staff Operations

For its highly sensitive grid operations function — the part of ERCOT’s role that occurs inside one of two secure control rooms in the Austin area — ERCOT reported at its April Board of Directors meeting that certain additional precautions are in place. For instance, ERCOT is conducting body temperature screenings of individuals before they are permitted in the control rooms. ERCOT has also arranged for extensive control room cleanings between shifts, and is alternating between its two control rooms for each shift.

Upcoming Resource Adequacy Reports and Preliminary SARA

With the summer peak energy usage season quickly approaching, ERCOT also has announced that any changes to the summer peak load forecast will be announced in mid-May. This is when ERCOT will release its final summer Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy (SARA) report and its Capacity, Demand and Reserves (CDR) report. The CDR provides ERCOT’s projection of the state’s estimated electricity reserve margin, or “cushion” of generating capacity above expected demand. ERCOT has stated that it requires a 13.75% reserve margin to operate the grid reliably, but ERCOT does not have the authority to simply mandate that generators build more capacity. In recent years, the system has fallen well beneath ERCOT’s targeted reserve margin.

In March, ERCOT released a preliminary SARA report for the summer season that projected the system’s total resource capacity for the upcoming summer season will be 82,417 megawatts (MW). The preliminary summer SARA report includes a 76,696 MW summer peak load forecast based on normal summer peak weather conditions. While these figures do not come from ERCOT’s official reserve margin calculation in the CDR report, comparing the two number does suggest that the ERCOT system will be below its targeted reserve margin level of 13.75%.  The SARA would suggest a reserve margin of about 7.5 percent. Whether the continuing impact of COVID-19 on electric usage in ERCOT puts that projection in doubt is an open question.

You can read more about the preliminary SARA report here.

— Chris Brewster

Chris Brewster, an attorney with Lloyd Gosselink,  participates in ERCOT matters on behalf of municipalities.