Energy
2:22 pm
Tue August 16, 2011

ERCOT Bringing Old Power Plants Back Online

The quasi-state agency that operates the Texas electric grid is reviving several old power plants to help avoid more power emergencies amid continued triple-digit temperatures. 

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas nearly ran short of power on four days in one week earlier this month. It was forced to declare power emergencies those days, and on one occasion took some industrial customers offline temporarily to avoid the need for rolling blackouts.

ERCOT CEO Trip Doggett announced today that the agency signed short-term contracts with NRG Energy and Garland Power and Light, who will each return two "mothballed" natural gas-fired plants to operation through October. The units will only come online in the event of an emergency.

The four units will be available to bring a total of about 400 megawatts to the grid, if needed. One megawatt is enough to power about 200 homes during hot weather.

“This has been a highly unusual year for ERCOT with record-breaking temperatures – starting as early as May – plus an increasing demand for electricity as the state’s economy and population growth fuel greater energy use,” Doggett said in a statement today.

ERCOT officials have also expressed concern about the effects of the drought on power generation capabilities. Power plants use lots of water to cool their equipment. Low water levels in rivers and reservoirs have, in some cases, caused the water temperature to rise. That makes cooling less efficient, and can mean plants cannot produce electricity at peak capacity.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has also raised the possibility that low river flows will mean some users - potentially power plants - could have their water use curtailed. That could take some plants offline, or force them to reduce their generation capacity. However, ERCOT officials have said the drought would have to continue for many more months before generators would face curtailment.

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