Power demand surging with heat; higher bills ahead?

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by BRAD WATSON

WFAA

Posted on June 24, 2012 at 10:09 PM

Updated Monday, Jun 25 at 4:23 AM

The Texas electric grid will be baking under its first heat wave of the summer this week.

The forecast demand is already approaching the highest demand from last year, which occurred later in the summer.

ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, runs the grid, and predicts that demand Monday and Tuesday will be more than 65,000 megawatts. That's just short of actual peak demand on August 3, 2011, when a 68,379-megawatts demand forced ERCOT to call for sudden conservation to avoid rolling blackouts.

One megawatt powers about 200 homes during the summer months.

ERCOT believes there will be enough power, but there's no promise it will be that way all summer — or into the future.

For consumers, that could quickly lead to higher electric bills.

A growing state means a growing demand for electric power. ERCOT's President and CEO, Trip Doggett, thinks there will be enough this week to avoid the risk of rolling blackouts, but he remains cautious.

"Conservation helped us make it through last summer and it'll be the key this coming summer," he said.

ERCOT arranges for more power plants to supply the grid, and for certain business customers to drop off in peak demand.

ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission — which is controlled by Republican appointees — believe more power plants must be built to meet the growing demand.

But with electric rates low because they track natural gas prices, power generators claim building new plants isn't financially attractive. They want the PUC to raise the price cap on wholesale power by half.

The Texas Coalition for Affordable Power, a consumer group representing 160 Texas cities, is concerned about the unknown impact on residential customers.

"The proposal is to increase it by 50 percent, and no one is real sure at this point how much that could affect residential bills, but we do expect it would have perhaps a significant impact," said TCAP spokesman R.A. Dyer.

One estimate says an average household would pay about $200 more a year under the proposal, although an ERCOT consultant claims any increase would be much lower.

The PUC votes on the possible price increase Thursday; if approved, it would be effective on August 1 — just in time for more heat.

E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com

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