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ERCOT requests conservation, but why 78 degrees?

Last week, ERCOT recommended that the public set their home thermostats to 78 degrees and avoid using large appliances.

DALLAS — It is only a matter of time before North Texas flirts with triple-digit temperatures. But lately, it's been two digits that many people are talking about: 78 degrees.

Last week, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, recommended that the public set their home thermostats to 78 degrees and avoid using large appliances.

"As you know, we had record breaking heat," said Public Utility Commission of Texas Chairman Peter Lake.

ERCOT made the announcement after the grid took a downturn; five large generators had gone offline.

"This wasn't a conservation alert, or a conservation appeal, it was just a request," ERCOT interim CEO Brad Jones said.

Jones says the request was simply precautionary. He says that request resulted in 400 megawatts of power returned. That itself can power 80 thousand homes.

But why 78 degrees?

"The 78 degree goes back many years to the first energy crisis with Jimmy Carter," said Bruce Bullock with the SMU Cox School of Business. 

President Jimmy Carter in 1979 had asked all federal buildings be set to 78 degrees in the summer and 55 degrees in the winter to offset the incredible strain on resources.

"All of us must learn to waste less energy," said President Carter in an address to the country in 1979. WFAA has learned the Environmental Protection Agency through EnergyStar isn't stuck on the number 78. They advise a 7 degree adjustment depending on whether you're home.

"Keep AC thermostats set at 78 F degrees or higher when home when you're home, health permitting. Every degree above 78 F represents an approximately 2% savings on cooling costs," read a statement from PG&E in its energy saving tips.

HVAC experts tell WFAA call 78 degrees "optimal" for conservation and for financial reasons.

"We're still sitting here with a problem," said Bullock.

Bruce expects more ERCOT requests this year. He says the real problem is the lack of power generation and that fix won't be overnight.

WFAA put in requests to ERCOT to determine why it was set on that number, but our emails were not returned.

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