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ERCOT: Power grid becoming more stable as gas, solar, wind grow

By: James Osborne |

Fears that Texas might not have enough electricity in the years ahead have all but been extinguished by a flood of new gas turbines and solar and wind farms, the state’s grid operator said Tuesday.

In a report examining the grid’s power supply and consumer demand over the next decade, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said its reserve margin – the percentage of electricity available above what is used – will exceed 20 percent by 2017. The current minimum reserve level is 13.75 percent, a standard ERCOT almost failed to meet in the summer of 2014.

One of the principal drivers is a sudden boom in solar energy development in West Texas. Only expected to account for 295 megawatts next year – on a grid with a capacity of more than 79,000 megawatts – solar should account for almost 1,789 megawatts by 2017, ERCOT said.

Likewise, natural gas-fired capacity is scheduled to grow 1 percent to more than 51,000 megawatts. Wind capacity is expected to grow 45 percent to more than 4,200 megawatts in 2017 – factoring in ERCOT’s estimates on how wind patterns.

“We continue to see the demand for electricity here increase as more people and businesses move into Texas,” ERCOT Director of System Planning Warren Lasher said Tuesday. “To meet this growing demand, the generation mix is also growing and changing.”

The rosy outlook on the state’s power reserves stands in stark contrast to warnings two years ago Texas might soon be subjected to rolling blackouts. With power plant construction slow and a booming population, in 2013 ERCOT officials said power reserves were likely to shrink in the years ahead.

But as the state’s utility board considered overhauling the power market, some lawmakers and business executives questioned whether ERCOT was overestimating power demand growth. Following a lengthy review, the agency revised it standards last year to show earlier predictions were too grim.

In Tuesday’s report, ERCOT forecast in 2020 the power supply would peak at 71,420 megawatts – more than 400 megawatts less than it predicted in February 2014. Next summer load is expected to peak 68,063 megawatts.

“Looking back at the decision [to redo methodology] I’ve been very happy with how our new forecasting model has performed,” ERCOT Load Forecasting and Analysis Manager Calvin Opheim said Tuesday.

The next question facing ERCOT is how tougher federal environmental standards – governing everything from carbon emissions to regional ozone levels – will impact the grid. President Obama’s clean power plan is expected to close roughly a third of the country’s coal plants.

Cheap natural gas is already forcing many coal plants off the grid in Texas. But coal remains a major component of the state’s power supply, accounting for a quarter of ERCOT capacity next year.

“While we currently are seeing planning reserve margins top 20 percent in the next several years, some of this growth could be offset by unit retirements as changing environmental rules begin to take effect,” Lasher said in a statement.