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ERCOT details 3 scenarios that could leave Texans without power this summer

Three extreme scenarios from grid operator ERCOT spell potential trouble for summer electric reliability.

HOUSTON — When the heat is on, will the lights stay on?

Many Texans are still on edge after the massive power failures this winter, but there could potentially be more outages this summer, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

“It looks like we’ll be OK if we have a normal summer,” said Daniel Cohan, a climate scientist and energy analyst at Rice University.

But the forecast is not looking normal.

“The forecast is that we’re going to have a hotter than usual summer, and this forecast shows that we don’t have enough power to go around,” Cohan said.

A preliminary “seasonal assessment of resource adequacy” from ERCOT lays out three extreme risk scenarios based on historical data from a really hot and dry summer in 2011. If Texas experiences the same conditions this season, the report estimates the power grid capacity could fall 3,614 megawatts short, or enough to power 720,000 homes. If low solar power generation is factored in, the shortfall drops to 7,500, or 1.5 million homes.

ERCOT’s worst-case scenario would leave the grid 14,000 megawatts short. That estimation is based on low wind output, low solar output, an extreme peak load, and extreme generation outages of all sources. In such a scenario, 2.8 million Texas homes could be left in the dark.

“I'm very concerned because we've had underinvestment across this grid and underinvestment with generation, underinvestment with transmission,” KHOU11 energy analyst Ed Hirs said.

Yet in the report’s summary, ERCOT does not appear to be concerned. It states “the grid operator anticipates there will be sufficient generation to meet the summer peak demand” if system conditions remain as expected.

“This report is kind of a split personality,” Hirs said. “On the one hand, it's saying that the odds of us having a blackout are really pretty low, but they don't actually quantify that, and then they give you three scenarios under which there could be blackouts.”

Hirs added that if ERCOT does get into a power jam, it has limited connections to other grids in the nation and cannot call on neighbors for help.

ERCOT plans to release its final summer assessment report Thursday.

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