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Energy experts say extreme demand is requiring Texas generators to postpone needed maintenance

Aging generators with planned maintenance are staying online, but this could lead to "catastrophic" failure later on.

DALLAS — As temperatures across Texas continue to come near or pass all-time records this summer, demand on the energy grid has too.

On Monday, ERCOT showed demand setting a new record with an even higher record expected Tuesday followed by a third new peak on Wednesday,  with demand forecast at 81.6 gigawatts (GW). 

For perspective, prior to 2022, the all-time record was 74.8 GW set in 2019.

“What we’re experiencing right now is going to be our new normal for a while,” said Michele Richmond, the executive director of Texas Competitive Power Advocates.

TCPA represents 60% of all generation on the grid and says the generators holding up the grid are getting older.

Last week, ERCOT issued two conservation notices, but this week, despite the records, they don’t except any because of stronger wind and fewer thermal outages.

“We are currently doing everything we can to make sure that that doesn’t occur,” Richmond said.

Demand this high, and rapidly trending higher, isn’t sustainable without change.

“If you’re not paying attention to climate and you’re operating a grid, you’re going to be unprepared,” said Doug Lewin, a clean energy consultant with Stoic Energy.

ERCOT’s beginning of the year forecast was off significantly. The grid operator predicted a July demand peak of 74.9 GW. Lewin and Richmond both worry about old generators that have been forced to put off scheduled maintenance this year to keep up with the high demand.

“If you’ve got an old car, you don’t want to put off your maintenance because then you risk something catastrophic breaking,” Richmond said. “It’s the same kind of situation for these aging machines.”

“You’re taking your 50-year-old car, not getting the oil changed and running it at 80, 90, 100 miles an hour every day,” Lewin said. “Something’s going break.”

Where the pair differ is on solutions. Richmond says the Public Utility Commission needs to change priorities from affordability to reliability, meaning pushing for more thermal generation than wind or solar.

“Getting this market design change to emphasize reliability is absolutely critical to the future of our grid,” she said.

“It would be folly to choose one over the other,” Lewin says of reliability over affordability. “That is a false choice.”

Lewin says bills would skyrocket beyond the sharp gains customers are already feeling because of the high cost of building new thermal generators.

“Any vision for the future for the Texas grid or any other grid that just says affordability isn’t a concern is ludicrous and crazy,” he said.

His vision is more solar and more costal wind and, equally important, better energy efficiency.

This week, Texas should be in the clear, but any outage now or later this year would again create questions about the future of the grid in the heat or the cold.

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