Bluebonnet keeps an eye on the state’s power supply


The Electric Reliability Council of Texas manages the flow of electric power to 24 million Texas customers — representing about 90 percent of the state’s electric load. In ERCOT's control room, above, the electric grid is monitored constantly. Photo courtesy of ERCOT

By Matt Bentke, General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative

Searing heat arrived in early May and an above-average number of triple-digit days are forecast through the summer of 2018. Extreme temperatures make reliability of the state’s electric grid critically important.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, more commonly known as ERCOT, expects to see record-breaking demand for power this summer and estimates there will be enough power to meet that demand. ERCOT is the independent system operator responsible for most of the state’s electric grid.
But population growth and a strong, energy-intensive economy — as well as the retirement of several older, less-efficient coal-fired power plants in the last year — mean that the state’s electricity supply will be tight.
The state’s reserve margin of power is something that concerns everyone from the governor to each utility responsible for generating and delivering power to consumers.
The reserve margin is a safety net in the event that one or more power plants unexpectedly stops generating electricity. If that happens, the reserve margin is intended to ensure there is enough power to meet the state’s needs. ERCOT’s goal is to maintain a 13.75 percent reserve margin, which is about 10,000 megawatts. However, this summer the reserve margin is currently forecast to be 11 percent, about 8,000 megawatts.
One megawatt of electricity provides power to about 200 homes during peak demand, typically between 3 and 7 p.m. on a hot summer day.
Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative works closely with the Lower Colorado River Authority, our primary wholesale power provider, to ensure there is a sufficient supply of reliable energy for our members. We monitor grid conditions 24 hours a day, every day, and will inform members through our website and by traditional and social media if energy conservation efforts are needed.  
Consumers can also monitor grid conditions by following ERCOT on Facebook and Twitter, and by downloading its app to mobile devices. ERCOT’s mobile app shows real-time energy demand, capacity and operating reserves. You can also opt in to receive energy conservation alerts on your mobile device during periods of peak demand.
Bluebonnet’s members can conserve energy and reduce peak demand in their homes by setting their thermostats two to three degrees higher, setting programmable thermostats to higher temperatures when no one is at home, using fans to feel four to six degrees cooler, and avoid using large appliances such as ovens, washing machines and dishwashers between 3 and 7 p.m.
Businesses can conserve energy during peak demand hours by using natural rather than electric lighting and shutting down or reducing nonessential production processes.
If energy demand begins to outpace supply, ERCOT will issue emergency energy alerts, which local media outlets will broadcast and we will immediately share with our members. These alerts are intended to reduce demand and prevent interruptions to service.
However, if the state’s operating reserves drop below a critical level, ERCOT will order utilities to begin temporary, rotating power outages. Those temporary outages will be randomly distributed and limited to 20 minutes at a time. The last time Bluebonnet members experienced such temporary outages was February 2011.
ERCOT has consistently done an excellent job of monitoring and managing the state’s electric supply for many years. With its close oversight and every Texan’s help in decreasing power use on summer’s hottest days, we hope to continue to avoid any inconveniences to Bluebonnet members.

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