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Officials: Electricity reserves better due to efficiency

By: Laylan Copelin |

Electricity reserves during the summer’s peak demand should be near or above the target for Texas’ primary power grid for several years, according to a new 10-year forecast released Friday by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

On June 1, the reserve margin for the grid serving 85 percent of Texans is expected to be 13 percent over the peak demand for electricity. The target set by the Public Utility Commission is 13.75 percent.

But by August 1 the margin jumps to 16 percent after several new power plants, totaling more than 2,100 megawatts, begin commercial operations.

The ERCOT report also cites a slowdown in the growth of the peak demand for electricity for the better-than-expected reserve margins.

They credit energy efficiency measures by consumers, including more efficient appliances and lighting.

“Although population and the economy continue to grow in the ERCOT region, the relationship between economic growth and peak electric demand has changed in the past several years,” said Warren Lasher, ERCOT’s director of system planning. “We believe recent improvements to our load forecasting methodology are providing a more realistic view of the future electric demand we need to be prepared to serve.”

After several years of inaccurate forecasts, ERCOT for the first time is substituting projections based on the historical growth of customer accounts as opposed to economic projections and employment figures.

The report shows the reserve margin staying above 10 percent until 2020. But several factors could affect the forecast in the future.

To begin with, five natural gas-fired plants have signed agreements to connect to the grid but have not completed the permitting process. That would add 2,277 megawatts by 2016.

Furthermore, ERCOT officials admit their estimates of wind generation are conservative, pending further study. Currently, ERCOT only counts 8.7 percent of wind generation capacity in its forecast, although as much as 27 percent of coastal wind and 14 percent of non-coastal wind is thought to be available during the summer’s peak demand for electricity.

On the other hand, the federal government is considering tougher air quality rules that could make some older coal plants uneconomical and force their retirement.

The final wild card is weather. The forecast assumes normal weather.

Historic temperatures and drought during 2011 tested the limits of the grid several times, but ERCOT avoided rolling blackouts. However, that close call prompted an ongoing debate whether ERCOT’s wholesale electricity market is offering high enough prices to attract new generation.

Friday’s report suggests that it is _ for now.