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Why are so many Texas power plants allowed to go offline?

ERCOT said it's a balancing act on how much maintenance to allow at one time. The Texas Public Utility Commission said it relies on ERCOT's expertise.

HOUSTON — It wasn’t a 100-degree summer scorcher.

It wasn’t a freezing winter day.

And a hurricane had not barreled through on Tuesday.

“Yesterday should have been one of the easiest days of the year to keep the lights on,” said Daniel Cohan, associate professor of environmental engineering at Rice University. “It was nice and mild all throughout Texas.”

Yet the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, ERCOT, made a plea to conserve electricity as demand outpaced supply and put the state’s power grid close to emergency alert status.

“One of our four nuclear units was down yesterday. About 40% of our coal capacity was down yesterday. And the majority of what was down was natural gas,” Cohan said. “This the spring season and the time plants need to tune up and be ready for the summer, but we can’t have this happening all at once to the point that the grid isn’t able to meet even moderate levels of demand.


ERCOT Vice President of Grid Planning and Operations Woody Rickerson said 32,000 megawatts — about 25% of the state’s generation fleet — was not available because many plants were offline doing maintenance. While Rickerson described that number as “not abnormal” during the “shoulder month” of seasonal repairs, he conceded the tight grid conditions Tuesday were closer than grid operators like to see.

“And so it’s really kind of a balancing act, how much maintenance can you allow?” Rickerson said.

A spokesperson for the Texas Public Utility Commission said regulators do not usually intervene in determining allowable maintenance levels at any given time.

“We rely on ERCOT and their expertise to manage questions like that, they are the grid operator,” PUC spokesperson Andrew Barlow said.

Barlow said he was not aware of any actions the PUC plans to take to ensure that pleas for energy conservation do not occur again on a mild weather day with moderate electricity demand.

“I think the heightened sensitive based on the experience in February is causing Texans to feel a whole lot more uncomfortable than I think is necessary,” Barlow said.

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