Tag Archives: ERCOT

Latest ERCOT planning report again points to gains for wind and solar

Every month, ERCOT — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas — releases a monthly planning report which reviews existing and new generation resources, asynchronous tie interconnection, transmission planning and other notable activiites. Once again, the December  2013 System Planning report showed significant gains for wind. Thus, several new wind projects went on-line in December, bringing the total amount of wind within ERCOT to 11,255 MWs, including 2,775 MW in the South zone, which is essentially coastal wind resources which tend to blow more consistently during the days. In addition, three new wind projects signed interconnection agreements in West Texas.

According to their latest summary of Generation Interconnection Requests, some 15,301 additional MWs of generation have signed interconnection agreements. Of this, 7,484 MWs is gas generation, and 7,447 is wind generation. Some 130 MWs of solar projects have confirmed interconnection agreements with transmission companies. Only one coal project — the Summit carbon-capture project near Odessa — has a signed interconnection agreement. In addition, some 35,000 MWs of additional generation is in the study phase — looking to see if going forward makes sense. Of this, about 15,000 MWs is gas, and 17,000 MWs is wind, with another 2,700 MWs of solar in the development queue. There are no biomass, nuclear or coal plants, but there are 875 MWs of storage being considered. The planning report shows that the future of electricity in Texas will be some combination of wind, solar, storage and yes, some newer gas units. Coal and nuclear appear to have no future. The Sierra Club will continue to work to set the rules so that the cleanest resources — wind, storage, solar and of course energy efficiency and demand response – can compete and ultimately win. According to our electric grid operator, those resources are already winning!

The report also lists three “ties” — that is devices that allow the ERCOT grid to interconnect with either the Western, Eastern or Mexican electric grids. While a small interconnection will go into effect this year — known as Railroad — there are two major projects being considered which would allow significant renewable resources to move out of Texas to other markets, or alternatively, other markets into Texas’s.  The Southern Cross HVDC — an interconnection with the Eastern SERC grid — could move massive amounts of wind — up to 3,000 MWs — in Texas and Oklahoma (and solar too) into the Southeast, while the Tres Amigas project in eastern New Mexico could allow 1500 MWs of Texas wind into New Mexico, Arizona and California (and perhaps some solar from those states into Texas). While these projects are still undergoing studies, they could revolutionize the use of renewables throughout the Southern US. Sierra Club will also be watching these projects, and is generally supportive, though the location of transmission lines and wind development must be sited appropriately to avoid any special habitats or special places. Onward!

ERCOT issues warnings due to high winter demand: what does it all mean?

With a high-profile discussion going on at the Public Utility Commission, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) — which runs the state’s power grid — and among stakeholders about whether or not Texas has adequate electric generation, the sudden warning early Monday morning that Texas was facing a power crisis of sots was literally a blast of cold air. Early Monday morning, with arctic winds affecting virtually all of the state, peak power demand hit nearly 56,000 MW hours — the second highest winter peak demand ever.

ERCOT – seeing power demand come dangerously close to total resources online and available — went into Emergency Action Alert Stage 1, calling on some contracts to reduce energy demand through their Emergency Response Service. Then just a short time later, they went into EAA Stage 2, calling upon other resources at their disposal. The crisis was soon over. Demand went down and a couple of plants that had been off-line went on-line.

What happened was a weather extreme, combined with some inopportune maintenance by some plant owners, and two plants that were expected to be on-line were off-line due to malfunctions caused by the extreme cold. While ERCOT did not announce which two plants scheduled to compete to provide power were off-line, one appears to be a unit at the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant was forced to reduce generation in order to repair a water pump. Luminant, which operates the plant, confirmed the repair but declined to answer questions about other facilities according to Reuters.

In addition to the two plants being down unexpectedly, another 13,000 MWs were down for scheduled maintenance since generally in Texas the winter is a time of  low demand. Still those operating did make some money. According to ERCOT’s website, real time prices hit the market cap of $5,000 for nearly an hour Monday morning, before quickly declining after 9 AM.

The PUC will investigate Monday’s outages to see if protocols were followed, said commission spokesman Terry Hadley, while ERCOT will review its maintenance schedule and also whether the new “weatherization” requirements imposed on generators after the last big freeze in 2011 is actually working.

In the meantime, stakeholders will use Monday’s freeze — and the fact that the state came close to implementing rolling brownouts — as part of the discussion on whether Texas needs to fundamentally change its market structure. On the one hand, the system did work, with ERCOT calling on demand response to reduce demand when resources were stretched thin, and market prices did rise, rewarding generators who were able to meet demand when supply was tight. On the other, many would argue that the lack of new investment in fast-responding natural gas plants is cause for concern as population and demand increases in Texas.

Sierra Club has filed extensive comments in the PUC docket on the issue, arguing that relatively small new services can provide the cushion Texas needs, as we continue to invest in demand response, wind and solar. Implementation of new more efficient building codes, expansion of the utility energy efficiency programs, new more favorable treatment of onsite solar in Texas’s competitive markets, and clearer rules for energy storage resources will lead to more investment in these new more flexible technologies. A full forward capacity market, where all generators and demand response providers are paid a market clearing price for simply having the resource available if needed is not the answer in our view. Market forces should cause many of the older and less efficient — and more polluting — plants to retire, which should send a market signal to build newer more flexible plants and invest more in energy efficiency, onsite solar and demand response.

In the meantime, the discussion at PUC, ERCOT and the Texas Legislature will continue about how to keep the lights on, investment coming and modernize our grid, all while keeping prices reasonable.

Demand Response Service Moves Forward at ERCOT; so does Hogan B+

In the non-descript building in South Austin which houses the offices of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, there is a lot of discussion about proposed changes occurring in the ERCOT market. The way it works in ERCOT is every issue or change that someone wants is filed either by the market participant or ERCOT staff through a “Nodal Protocol Revision Request” or NPRR and goes through a working group or subcommittee. Assuming it moves through these groups it eventually goes to a voting committee called the Protocol Revision Subcommittee. From there it goes to the Technical Advisory Committee, and eventually to the Board of Directors of ERCOT.

Sierra Club is currently a member of ERCOT and yours — Cyrus Reed – is spending way too much time here, but this stuff is actually important.

There are four important NPRRs being discussed today at PRS.

The first — NPRR 564 — was approved by PRS today and allows a new 30-minute “demand response” service to serve as an “Emergency Response Service” for those times when ERCOT determines there is an emergency. Demand response is a service that lowers energy consumption during peak times of use. A 30-minute demand response service would be for resources that are capable of providing demand response within a 30 minute time-frame. Examples of the types of energy consumers who might be able to be paid by ERCOT for agreeing to turn down or off power during an emergency might include a large commercial operation with air conditioning or even a city’s wastewater treatment plant. Some examples of the kinds of sites that are interested in ERS 30 include higher education, irrigation & water treatment, and different kinds of manufacturing. Market participants believe that this new product could open the door for more demand response to participate not only in these emergency products but eventually in the energy market itself.

A second NPPR – 571 – Weather-Sensitive Loads — would add another DR product — more focused on residential air conditioning programs, that could be added to the ERS service if companies were able to aggregate these loads and create a program for ERCOT. This NPPR was not approved but sent to a separate committee for further work.

While getting new demand response programs into these emergency response services run by ERCOT, more important will be allowing loads to actually bid into the energy market by providing a “Negawatt.” ERCOT has already approved “Loads in SCED 1.0” which will be implemented next summer. This change will not allow loads to bid into to sell the negawatt but it will allow them to do a “bid to buy,” meaning they will offer to not consume power at a certain price. Market participants like Sierra Club are now working on a a Loads in SCED 2.0 that would allow much more active participation for demand response. Stay tuned.

A third NPPR — 560 — Floors and Caps for Energy Storage — was delayed a month to allow ERCOT to do a full analysis of the impact on its staff to implement the changes. The protocol revision would help set the rules for energy storage facilities like batteries. Batteries can provide short-term energy into the market as needed without producing pollution at the time they are dispatched. A good new resource in the ERCOT market. Two large-scale compressed air energy storage facilities are also being developed that could be on-line by 2016, providing energy largely derived from wind turbines.

Finally, after a decisions by the Public Utility Commission to create a Operating Reserve Demand Curve that would create an additional payment to those providing energy or capable of putting energy into the market (and ancillary services), the PRS discussed NPPR 568, which implements the ORDC. ORDC is sometimes referred to as Hogan B+ after the MIT professor who came up with the concept. The new scarcity pricing mechanism would be implemented by June of 2014, and is likely to increase energy prices during times of scarcity. However, voting on the NPPR 568 broke down over how to treat “loads” — those bidding into buy energy or turn off their consumption — as well as issues like the ERS programs. PRS was scheduled to retake up the issue on Friday.

Latest ERCOT Report Shows Wind Still Gaining Market Share

Slide1Numbers don’t lie. And the numbers released last week in the latest ERCOT — Electric Reliability Council of Texas – planning and operations report for August shows that wind production and wind development is increasing in Texas. First, Los Vientos wind production in Cameron County began operations, with all 202 MWs going to serve Austin Energy. With this addition, there are 10,507 MWs of wind power installed in ERCOT, which covers about 80% of Texas. Second, three additional wind projects — Windhorst in Archer County, Miami Wind in Gray county and Cameron County Wind in Cameron — signed interconnection agreements and there are now some 6,000 MWs of additional wind with signed interconnection agreements waiting to be built. Coal has only one project — the Texas Clean Energy Project — an Integrated Gasification project — west of Odessa for 240 MWs, while natural gas has some 6,522 MWs of projects with signed interconnection agreements. Solar has 150 MWs of projects with signed interconnection agreements, and another 1,080 MWs undergoing studies. Interestingly, a number of storage projects are also being developed, with a 40 MW batter project expected to be completed in Harris County later this year, with several large Compressed Air Energy Storage facilities planned in West Texas in the coming years.

In terms of actual production, ERCOT’s Operation Reports in August found that wind averaged at least 10% of total energy production between October of 2012 and June of 2013, and only dropped to single digits in July and August when winds tend to be lower. Even so, it indicates that wind is now even contributing to summer production in a much more significant level than would have been imagined just a few years ago. ERCOT expects wind to top 16,000 MWs by 2015.

ERCOT latest planning documents shows more gains for Wind, Solar

It ain’t the most exciting meeting in the world, but once a month, I attend the “Reliability and Operations Subcommittee” at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which runs the Texas electric grid.


And once a month, our group – composed of generators, consumers, market players, retailers and wires companies among others — gets a monthly planning update known officially as the “System Planning Monthly Status Report.” Click here for access to the report itself.

And that report not only shows how much energy was used in ERCOT that month, it also shows how much from various types of resources, and more importantly, what resources — be they wind, solar, storage, gas, or coal — will be serving future loads. All of those proposed projects must go through financing, environmental permitting, and a complicated registration and study process with local wires companies known as an “Interconnection Agreement.” Even getting an approved interconnection agreement done is no guarantee a project will be built, because environmental permits, financing and market conditions still must exist for a project to move forward. Just ask the developers behind coal projects like Las Brisas and White Stallion where their projects are today. Fortunately, market conditions and a spirited citizen’s campaign, including the Sierra Club, helped doom those projects.

So what do the latest figures tell us? They suggest that there are some 13,000 MWs of proposed energy projects that have already signed an Interconnection Agreement or are in the process of getting an interconnection agreement (some 31,000). Of those, only two projects – the Summit Power Plant in West Texas and the  Sandy Creek project — are coal, and that represents only about 1,000 MWs of power, a relatively modest amount. In fact, there are slightly more MWs composed of solar projects in the process — at 1,264 MWs — than coal. Just last month, the White Camp Solar project in the panhandle became the first proposed solar plant in Texas of at least 100 MWs to officially sign an interconnection agreement with American Electric Power, which runs the electric grid in that area of the state. There is also almost 1,000 MWs of storage being looked at, and get this — some 22,000 MWs of wind power, much of which is located along the coast. The rest – about 19,000 MWs — is gas, much of intended only to meet peaking power needs.

The wind story is impressive and the ERCOT document further reports that if all of the wind projects with signed interconnection agreements actually go forward, wind production within ERCOT would go from about 10,500 MWs today to some 15,000 MWs in 2015. Currently, that wind is providing anywhere from a fraction of Texas’s electricity needs, to some 35% on certain days when the wind blows hard, particularly in the spring.

Fuel Type

Confidential Projects (MW)

Projects Under Full Study (MW)

Public Projects (MW)

Suspended Studies (MW)

Grand Total (MW)

Gas-AllOther                         449                         –              6,903
Gas-CombinedCycle                     6,506                         –            12,457
    Total Gas               2,615                   9,790                     6,955                         –            19,360
Nuclear                      –                          –                            –                         –                     –
Coal                      –                          –                     1,165                         –              1,165
Wind               2,748                 13,859                     5,062                         –            21,669
Solar                   395                       719                         150                         –              1,264
Biomass                      –                          –                            –                         –                     –
Storage                      –                       874                           40                         –                  914
Petroleum Coke                      –                          –                            –                         –                     –
Grand Total               5,758                 25,242                   13,372                         –            44,372

Source: ERCOT, Summary of Generation Interconnection Requests, June, 2013.