Will there be enough electricity for this week’s frigid temps?  How should you prepare?

December 19, 2022

Texas has made big strides in electric reliability over the last year. Improvements include weatherization of facilities, requiring onsite backup fuel for generators, mapping of critical infrastructure, improved communication and multiple other services at ERCOT to bring additional generation online quickly if needed. However, with the big cold snap predicted for this week I do believe some reasonable preparations are in order.

            This winter, the estimated peak power consumption for Texans is roughly 67,000 megawatts (MW). If everything goes as planned, ERCOT expects on average around 87,000 MW of electricity to be available. (Installed capacity is much higher but ERCOT uses historical data to discount a significant amount of wind and solar generation that will not be available due to suboptimal weather.)  

            That sounds like we have plenty of capacity to spare. However, about 10,000 MW of the estimated 87,000 MW available comes from wind and solar generation (renewables). The rest is dispatchable generation from nuclear, coal and natural gas power plants (thermal generation). Wind and solar can provide energy at low cost but they are not always available when you need them. Simply put, the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine at the right time.

            Texas needs more natural gas fired generation.  Natural gas is abundant here, clean and relatively cost effective.  However, the federal government has created a real disincentive to expanding this reliable, dispatchable power source. The fed heavily subsidizes wind and solar. Rule one of government is that you always get more of what you subsidize and less of what you tax.

As a result of the federal subsidies, for many years now almost all of the new generation in Texas has been in renewables.  Precious little new thermal generation has been added to the ERCOT grid. 

            On top of the subsidies, the Biden Administration has aggressively discouraged new thermal generation.  After all, from a company’s perspective, would you invest a billion dollars in a natural gas plant when your president is saying his goal is to shut you down?

            My point is this—take reasonable precautions as the cold snap approaches. No one expects another Storm Uri but you can’t with absolute certainty predict the weather.  On high power consumption days our thermal generation will be stressed which can lead to unexpected equipment malfunctions. And based on historical data, we can’t rely on the renewables to be available unless the wind and sun are just right.  

            So, bottom line, don’t panic or be worried but be prepared. Just in case, it doesn’t hurt to make sure you keep a full tank of gas this Christmas week. Pick up any prescriptions you may need and have some food at home that doesn’t require cooking. It’s always a good idea to have some bottled water in the house. With temperatures possibly staying below freezing for 48 hours, make sure you follow normal protocols related to protecting your outside faucets, indoor plumbing and especially your pets. All of this will make it easier to “weather” any temporary power outage that we could potentially experience.

Representative Phil King
Senator Elect, Texas Senate District 10