Tag Archives: Electric Reliability Council of Texas

Texas Bi-Partisan Victory for Energy Efficiency

Oooooo la la!  Victories like this are sweet in the current Legislature and we are HAPPY.  Thank you, Legislators!

Today, the Texas House of Representatives passed SB 1125, an overhaul of the state-required utility energy efficiency programs,  on third reading on a 99-34 vote.

The bill, sponsored in the Senate by Republican Senator Carona and in the House by Democratic Representative Anchia enjoyed bipartisan support.  It updates the energy efficiency programs that investor-owned utilities are required to manage by increasing and updating the goal for Energy Efficiency to 30 % of load growth by 2013, while transitioning to an equivalent percentage of peak winter and summer demand, and continuing to grow the programs beyond 2013.

The bill also requires ERCOT, the operators of Texas’s electrical grid, to allow market-based demand response programs for all customers, and allows utilities outside the competitive areas to directly interact with their customers on energy efficiency programs.

“This bipartisan bill should help customers gain more access to energy efficiency programs throughout the state while growing green jobs,” noted Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Energy efficiency is the cheapest, quickest and cleanest way to meet our energy needs.”
For more information, contact Cyrus Reed, 512-740-4086

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Failure to Operate

Remember the rolling blackouts? Today, the Senate hauled up the public utilities and several commissions up to testify at the Capitol. We wonder how they’ll explain away our reliance on fossil fuels to carry us through the 21st century:

From the Austin American Statesman:

The storm knocked more than 80 of the state 550 generators offline, according to early explanations, primarily because of frozen or broken equipment, including safety instruments that shut down some of the state’s largest, newest coal-fired plants.

Luminant has reported that the blackouts cost the company $30 million when several of its generating plants broke down, forcing it to buy electricity on the open market, where prices rose from $50 per megawatt-hour to $3,000 .

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the POTUS Responds

Check out the (POTUS) President of the United States’ official statement on the blackouts:

According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, these blackouts were actually the result of extreme cold temperatures and high winds, which led to a variety of mechanical failures at more than 50 power plants around the state.

Anytime communities experience major outages, it is a cause for concern, and major utilities and regulators are investigating steps that can be taken to decrease any weather related vulnerability of power generating plants in the state that, unlike their northern counterparts which experience extreme cold every winter, are often not designed to withstand such rare weather conditions.

Some are trying to blame these blackouts — which the industry has already provided explanation for — on Clean Air Act standards under consideration to curb dangerous pollution, including carbon pollution. While these claims gained traction on the internet, there is a major problem with this theory — no power plant in Texas has yet been required to do anything to control carbon pollution.

Woah there…you mean powerplants that are over thirty years old are subject to mechanical failures? But…but…they were supposed to be unsinkable energy-producing Titanics!

-Flavia de la Fuente, Conservation Organizer

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Public Citizen, Sierra Club call for investigation of black-outs

For Release:  February 4, 2011

Contact:  Cyrus Reed, 512.740.4086 or Tom “Smitty” Smith, 512-797-8468

Sierra Club and Public Citizen Call on Texas Legislature, Public Utility Commission, and ERCOT to Investigate Cause of Forced Outages

Outages show why State Must Renew Efforts for a Comprehensive Energy Plan for Texas

(Austin)  As Texans experience forced, intermittent electricity outages, Sierra Club and Public Citizen call on Governor Perry and the Commissioners at the Public Utility Commission, (PUC) and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, (ERCOT) to investigate the cause of the outages and the response by the state’s regulated and unregulated electrical utilities.

“The Texas State Legislature, the PUC, and ERCOT must conduct a thorough investigation at this time into public allegations that the power outages appear to have been at least partially caused by 1) unweatherized pipes at two new coal plants – Oak Grove and Sandow, and mostly, 2) by the lack of a better organized and comprehensive demand response system to reduce peak demand during these types of extreme weather events,” said Cyrus Reed with Sierra Club.
A reserve margin is set to ensure the reliable operation of the bulk power grid in case of major outages or unusual temperature extremes.

“Texas’s electricity grid has plenty of power. In fact, ERCOT recently increased Texas’s reserve margin from 12.5 percent to 13.75 percent with assurances that the grid would perform safely and adequately for years to come,” said Reed.  “The problem is not about availability of power.  The problem is our current over-reliance on large, centralized fossil fuels with all of their pollution, associated risks, and increasing costs.  Consumers and smaller retailers need more control over energy price spikes through such tools as accessible energy efficiency programs, demand management tools, and distributed generation like on-site solar power.”

INDUSTRY MADE MILLIONS ON OUTAGES

During the power outages this week, electricity prices peaked at the cap of $3,000 per megawatt hour. Real-time Texas electricity prices are available for viewing online at ERCOT’s website – http://www.ercot.com/content/cdr/html/20110202_real_time_spp

Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith with Public Citizens reviews the recent history of price spikes during power outages, “Wednesday’s blackouts are reminiscent of the market manipulation by Luminant on a cold and icy night in 2003.  This is also similar to the blackout that occurred just before TXU announced their plan for 11 new coal plants in April 2006.  This Wednesday morning, electricity prices shot up 66 times from 3:00 through 11:00 AM and the electricity companies made hundreds of millions overnight.  There should be an investigation to see if Luminant pulled off a fast one and shut down 2,900 megawatts  of coal because the ‘pipes froze’ — and  then profited as the prices skyrocketed.”

MORE DEMAND RESPONSE NEEDED FOR ENERGY SECURITY

Sierra Club and Public Citizen applaud progress in demand response and call for more.  Much of ERCOT’s grid already includes mechanisms to decrease energy use during peak hours to help avoid energy constraints and control energy use during times of extreme heat or cold weather. However, in Texas, these programs are generally only available to large industrial customers, whereas many other electrical grids in the country take advantage of programs to help smaller businesses and residential customers cycle down their use during certain times — and even allow them to get paid for it.

Cyrus Reed with Sierra Club explains, “Increasing demand response capacity in the ERCOT grid will help stabilize the grid and help avoid future power outages.  Right now, some utilities like CPS Energy and Austin Energy have programs for homeowners to help reduce power use and save money, but with some changes at ERCOT and the PUC — or through legislative action — we could allow retail electric providers, utilities and third-parties to work with smaller energy users to bid into the market with demand response programs and get paid for reducing demand in the same way that electrical generators get paid by the market for selling generation.”

RENEWABLE POWER KEEPS THE LIGHTS ON

Sierra Club and Public Citizen emphasize transitioning Texas’s electric sector away from pollution heavy coal plants to cleaner, more reliable alternatives — energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy such as wind, solar, and geothermal power.  During the current extreme winter weather, wind power performed reliably according to a statement issued by the American Wind Energy Association:
Cold and icy conditions caused unexpected equipment failures at power plants, taking up to 50 fossil-fired power plants totaling 7,000 megawatts of capacity offline.  Wind energy played a major role in keeping the blackouts from becoming more severe. Between 5:00 and 7:00 AM,  this morning (Wednesday the peak of the electricity shortage) wind was providing between 3,500 and 4,000 MW, roughly the amount it had been forecast and scheduled to provide. That is about 7% of the state’s total electricity demand at that time, or enough for about 3 million average homes.

Texas is currently number one in the nation for wind power production and, with 10,000 megawatts of wind energy, easily surpassed modest initial goals set by the Texas Legislature in 2001 in the state’s first Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS).  The PUC is currently considering a rulemaking that would finally implement a provision of the RPS that would required that 500 MWs be generated by renewable resources other than wind such as solar and geothermal power.

Cyrus Reed continued, “Wind power performed strongly and reliably during these recent outages.  Texas’s initial RPS set goals for the state a decade ago in 2001 and drove over 10,000 megawatts of investment in West Texas, why wouldn’t this state legislature look to drive that aspect of Texas’s economy again by pursuing a stronger RPS to drive more investments now in solar and geothermal power?  This will also have the great benefit of addressing serious air pollution problems by reducing the burning of coal for electricity. ”

COMPREHENSIVE TEXAS ENERGY PLAN NEEDED

Sierra Club and Public Citizen call on the Texas State Legislature to avail of its opportunity in the current 82nd Texas State Legislature to continue the efforts to develop a comprehensive Texas Energy Plan that will increase energy security and create a stable grid in times of extreme weather.
“We appreciate ERCOT’s response to minimize these forced outages as much as possible, but this event demonstrates why Texas needs a comprehensive energy plan that includes efficiency,  renewables, and demand response with accountability measures,” said Cyrus Reed of the Sierra Club.

Reed urged — “We recommend that Texas’s comprehensive Energy Plan do the following:

·        Expand our energy efficiency goals to lower overall electricity use;

·        Further open up our market for demand response in order to lower energy demand during peak times of use during extreme weather;

·        Expand our renewable portfolio standard to include solar and geothermal power either through regulatory action at the PUC or legislative action; and

·        Most importantly, make the market work for distributed forms of generation like on-site solar and geothermal heat.

Reed concludes, “These measures will give us more tools in the future to deal with extreme weather conditions.”

Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith urges State leadership to respond, “Now is the time for some vision by the Texas Legislature to make Texas a leader in energy production again. While ERCOT should be applauded for its rapid response, the legislature should focus on providing a way forward with more emphasis on renewables and efficiency measures and less on coal generation that can’t responsibly manage a three-day cold spell.”

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Get Your Cycle Down, Cycle Up going, Texas

Sierra Club and Public Citizen Call on Texas Legislature, Public Utility Commission, and ERCOT to Investigate Cause of Forced Outages

Outages show why State Must Renew Efforts for a Comprehensive Energy Plan for Texas

(Austin)  As Texans experience forced, intermittent electricity outages, Sierra Club and Public Citizen call on Governor Perry and the Commissioners at the Public Utility Commission, (PUC) and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, (ERCOT) to investigate the cause of the outages and the response by the state’s regulated and unregulated electrical utilities.

“The Texas State Legislature, the PUC, and ERCOT must conduct a thorough investigation at this time into public allegations that the power outages appear to have been at least partially caused by 1) unweatherized pipes at two new coal plants – Oak Grove and Sandow, and mostly, 2) by the lack of a better organized and comprehensive demand response system to reduce peak demand during these types of extreme weather events,” said Cyrus Reed with Sierra Club.

A reserve margin is set to ensure the reliable operation of the bulk power grid in case of major outages or unusual temperature extremes.

“Texas’s electricity grid has plenty of power. In fact, ERCOT recently increased Texas’s reserve margin from 12.5 percent to 13.75 percent with assurances that the grid would perform safely and adequately for years to come,” said Reed.  “The problem is not about availability of power.  The problem is our current over-reliance on large, centralized fossil fuels with all of their pollution, associated risks, and increasing costs.  Consumers and smaller retailers need more control over energy price spikes through such tools as accessible energy efficiency programs, demand management tools, and distributed generation like on-site solar power.”

INDUSTRY MADE MILLIONS ON OUTAGES During the power outages this week, electricity prices peaked at the cap of $3,000 per megawatt hour. Real-time Texas electricity prices are available for viewing online at ERCOT’s website –  http://www.ercot.com/content/cdr/html/20110202_real_time_spp

Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith with Public Citizens reviews the recent history of price spikes during power outages, “Wednesday’s blackouts are reminiscent of the market manipulation by Luminant on a cold and icy night in 2003.  This is also similar to the blackout that occurred just before TXU announced their plan for 11 new coal plants in April 2006.  This Wednesday morning, electricity prices shot up 66 times from 3:00 through 11:00 AM and the electricity companies made hundreds of millions overnight.  There should be an investigation to see if Luminant pulled off a fast one and shut down 2,900 megawatts  of coal because the ‘pipes froze’ — and  then profited as the prices skyrocketed.”

MORE DEMAND RESPONSE NEEDED FOR ENERGY SECURITY Sierra Club and Public Citizen applaud progress in demand response and call for more.  Much of ERCOT’s grid already includes mechanisms to decrease energy use during peak hours to help avoid energy constraints and control energy use during times of extreme heat or cold weather. However, in Texas, these programs are generally only available to large industrial customers, whereas many other electrical grids in the country take advantage of programs to help smaller businesses and residential customers cycle down their use during certain times — and even allow them to get paid for it.

Cyrus Reed with Sierra Club explains, “Increasing demand response capacity in the ERCOT grid will help stabilize the grid and help avoid future power outages.  Right now, some utilities like CPS Energy and Austin Energy have programs for homeowners to help reduce power use and save money, but with some changes at ERCOT and the PUC — or through legislative action — we could allow retail electric providers, utilities and third-parties to work with smaller energy users to bid into the market with demand response programs and get paid for reducing demand in the same way that electrical generators get paid by the market for selling generation.”

RENEWABLE POWER KEEPS THE LIGHTS ON Sierra Club and Public Citizen emphasize transitioning Texas’s electric sector away from pollution heavy coal plants to cleaner, more reliable alternatives — energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy such as wind, solar, and geothermal power.  During the current extreme winter weather, wind power performed reliably according to a statement issued by the American Wind Energy Association:

Cold and icy conditions caused unexpected equipment failures at power plants, taking up to 50 fossil-fired power plants totaling 7,000 megawatts of capacity offline.  Wind energy played a major role in keeping the blackouts from becoming more severe. Between 5:00 and 7:00 AM,  this morning (Wednesday the peak of the electricity shortage) wind was providing between 3,500 and 4,000 MW, roughly the amount it had been forecast and scheduled to provide. That is about 7% of the state’s total electricity demand at that time, or enough for about 3 million average homes.

Texas is currently number one in the nation for wind power production and, with 10,000 megawatts of wind energy, easily surpassed modest initial goals set by the Texas Legislature in 2001 in the state’s first Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS).  The PUC is currently considering a rulemaking that would finally implement a provision of the RPS that would required that 500 MWs be generated by renewable resources other than wind such as solar and geothermal power.

Cyrus Reed continued, “Wind power performed strongly and reliably during these recent outages.  Texas’s initial RPS set goals for the state a decade ago in 2001 and drove over 10,000 megawatts of investment in West Texas, why wouldn’t this state legislature look to drive that aspect of Texas’s economy again by pursuing a stronger RPS to drive more investments now in solar and geothermal power?  This will also have the great benefit of addressing serious air pollution problems by reducing the burning of coal for electricity. ”

COMPREHENSIVE TEXAS ENERGY PLAN NEEDED Sierra Club and Public Citizen call on the Texas State Legislature to avail of its opportunity in the current 82nd Texas State Legislature to continue the efforts to develop a comprehensive Texas Energy Plan that will increase energy security and create a stable grid in times of extreme weather.

“We appreciate ERCOT’s response to minimize these forced outages as much as possible, but this event demonstrates why Texas needs a comprehensive energy plan that includes efficiency,  renewables, and demand response with accountability measures,” said Cyrus Reed of the Sierra Club.

Reed urged — “We recommend that Texas’s comprehensive Energy Plan do the following:

  • Expand energy efficiency goals to lower overall electricity use;
  • Further open up the market for demand response in order to lower energy demand during peak times of use during extreme weather;
  • Expand our renewable portfolio standard to include solar and geothermal power either through regulatory action at the PUC or legislative action; and
  • Most importantly, make the market work for distributed forms of generation like on-site solar and geothermal heat.

Reed concludes, “These measures will give us more tools in the future to deal with extreme weather conditions.”

Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith urges State leadership to respond, “Now is the time for some vision by the Texas Legislature to make Texas a leader in energy production again. While ERCOT should be applauded for its rapid response, the legislature should focus on providing a way forward with more emphasis on renewables and efficiency measures and less on coal generation that can’t responsibly manage a three-day cold spell.”

Posted by Donna Hoffman, Communication Coordinator, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club

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Wind Power Keeping the Lights on in Texas

Vestas wind turbine, Dithmarschen.

Image via Wikipedia

Guess who’s keeping the lights on in Texas? Wind power. Check out this statement released by the American Wind Energy Association. The blackouts demonstrate the unreliability of coal power and the importance of building more and more energy efficiency and conservation measures into our systems.

How’s that for grid reliability?

Many parts of the Texas experienced rolling blackouts today, coinciding with unusually cold temperatures across many parts of the state. Millions of customers statewide appear to have been affected. Here are the facts as they are currently understood:

· Wind energy played a major role in keeping the blackouts from becoming more severe. Between 5 and 7 A.M. this morning (the peak of the electricity shortage) wind was providing between 3,500 and 4,000 MW, roughly the amount it had been forecast and scheduled to provide. That is about 7% of the state’s total electricity demand at that time, or enough for about 3 million average homes.

· Cold and icy conditions caused unexpected equipment failures at power plants, taking up to 50 fossil-fired power plants totaling 7,000 MW of capacity offline.

· The cold temperatures caused electric heating demand to exceed the demand expected for this time of year. Many fossil and nuclear power plants take planned outages during non-summer months for maintenance, since electric demand is usually lower during these periods than in the summer.

· The cold temperatures led to very high demand for natural gas for heating purposes, which may have strained the ability of the natural gas pipeline and distribution system to meet both these heating needs and the need to supply natural gas power plants (Texas obtains about half of its electricity by burning natural gas, and gas power plants account for about 70% of the state’s generating capacity).

“While we are still learning about what happened today, this weather event clearly demonstrates the importance of developing and maintaining a diverse energy portfolio that is not overly dependent on any one energy source,” said Michael Goggin, Manager of Transmission Policy, American Wind Energy Association. “This experience shows just how valuable a clean, affordable and homegrown energy source like wind can be in contributing to a reliable electric system.”

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) is the national trade association of America’s wind industry, with more than 2,500 member companies, including global leaders in wind power and energy development, wind turbine manufacturing, component and service suppliers, and the world’s largest wind power trade show. AWEA is the voice of wind energy in the U.S., promoting renewable energy to power a cleaner, stronger America. Look up information on wind energy at AWEA’s website. Find insight on the industry on our blog, Into the Wind, join us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.

-Posted by Flavia de la Fuente, Conservation Organizer

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Business and Commerce Committee consider retail pricing, nodal and… Austin Energy’s Clean Energy Plan

Key is to give businesses and consumers tools to reduce energy demand – and save money – says Sierra Club

The Senate Business and Commerce Committee met earlier this week to discuss, among other interim charges, the competition in electric retail markets including the impact of the “nodal” transition on electric customers. On December 1, 2010, the Texas ERCOT electricity market will officially transform from a “zonal” system – based on five geographic zones – to a “nodal” system, based on hundreds of local areas. Thus, electricity pricing should be more varied, with local factors of generation, transmission and congestion impacting the wholesale and ultimately retail price.

While several invited panelists expressed some concern about the potential for problems at least as the system is rolled out, Trip Doggett, President and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the operators of the electric grid that covers roughly 80% of the Texas market, expressed confidence that testing had worked out must of the bugs in the system. Public Utility Commissioner Donna Nelson emphasized that the nodal system was already being paid for through a surcharge and that prices would not increase as a result of the software and infrastructure needed to change to nodal. In addition, she noted that PUC had passed rules to establish some ceiling prices during the transition to prevent any runups.

Much of the morning’s testimony centered on whether the deregulation of the wholesale, generation and retail markets of much of Texas had actually led to lower prices for consumers. While all admitted that today’s current low prices were heavily influenced by the historically low natural gas prices, Nelson, Phillip Oldham with the Texas Association of Manufacturers, John Fainter with the Association of Energy Companies of Texas, Marcie Zlotnik with StarTex Power, an electric retail provider, and Brad Jones, with Luminant Energy, for the most part felt that competition had led to more efficient generation and lower prices and felt that companies that had done their homework would be able to thrive in the “nodal” market. Taking a different tact, Jake Dyer, representing the Cities Aggregation Power Project, argued strenuously that “public” power provided by municipal utilities and electric cooperatives had represented a better deal for most residents, and presented information based upon prices reported by the Energy Information Administration to prove up his case. However, when asked by Chairman Corona (R-Dallas) whether his group would favor re-regulation of the electric market, he said it wanted reform, not re-regulation. Similarly, Bee Morehead with the interreligious non-profit organization Texas Impact said the market was not working for most people – particularly Texans with lower and moderate incomes — and suggested a major overhaul of the “Power to Choose” website which people rely upon to choose their electric provider among other fixes. Similarly, Tim Morestead with AARP said a workshop of some 140 older Texans given the chance to compare and choose contracts from different providers resulted in mass confusion among many.

Testifying that Sierra Club did not actually know what the impact of the nodal market would have on retail electric prices – except it would lead to more local variability – Lone Star Chapter Conservation Director Cyrus Reed instead called for a series of legislative changes to promote energy efficiency, demand side management and onsite renewable energy. As Reed pointed out, while we can’t know how the nodal market will impact retail rates, we can reduce bills through promotion of such efforts.

Among Sierra Club’s suggested fixes were:

  • Creation of a Texas Energy Efficiency Coordinating Council which would oversee and coordinate the different energy efficiency program offered or overseen by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, the State Energy Conservation Office and the Public Utility Commission, among others;
  • Raising the energy efficiency goals that investor-owned utilities must meet, but allowing such utilities to more directly interact with customers;
  • Allowing retail electric providers, investor-owned utilities, municipal utilities and electric cooperatives to provide on-bill financing for energy efficiency and solar projects;
  • Allowing aggregators and others to “bid-in” demand-side management – where individuals and companies voluntarily turn down their power use for payment – into the ERCOT nodal market;
  • Establishing a statewide fair market price on the sale of surplus electricity from solar rooftops;
  • Clarifying the rules for when Homeowner Associations can prevent – if at all — a homeowner from putting up solar panels.

To see Cyrus Reed’s testimony on video, click here. Then Click on the Video Feed for October 25th. Testimony starts at 3 hours and 1 minute.

A side-note that was not officially on the agenda were a number of individuals who came to speak against Austin Energy’s Generation Plan and Climate Protection Plan – which calls for Austin Energy to increase its renewable resources up to some 35 percent of total generation –  as having the potential to add huge costs to consumer’s bills and lead to great uncertainty on reliability and costs. Data Foundry’s Andrew McFarlane, called for municipal utilities to be opened up to competition from other utilities so that businesses could choose another provider, a proposal that led Chairman Corona to suggest such advice would be sent to a subcommittee chaired by Austin Senator Kirk Watson, a former mayor and board member of Austin Energy. Some other suggestions by McFarlane and others, however, drew more favorable responses, such as the idea for greater transparency of municipal cost data. The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club has officially endorsed the Austin Energy 2020 Generation Plan, with the understanding that each decision on additional purchases of generation would have to go through a public process to assess all the costs and benefits of such additions.

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