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Texas Grid’s Big ‘Test’ Could Last Beyond The Heat Wave

The state is breaking records for electricity use at a time when power reserves have dropped.

GABRIEL CRISTÓVER PÉREZ / KUT
A now-shuttered coal power plant near Rockport, TX.

With Texans blasting the air conditioning in recent days to get through the heat wave, the state’s electric grid has been feeling some pressure. How it handles that pressure is something grid managers, experts, and power companies are watching closely.

The strain stems from the fact that Texas currently has low power reserves, mostly thanks to three coal plants shutting down this year.

Charles McConnell, head of Rice University’s Energy and Environment Initiative, worries the state has gotten “dangerously close” to brownouts.

“This continued peak of hot weather through July, through August and into September, that’s where the real test will be, in terms of whether the generation can withstand this kind of stress,” he said.

The way the state’s electric market is set up is also being tested.

In Texas, wholesale electric prices spike when reserves are low, which is supposed to spur investment in new power supplies. Joshua Rhodes, a researcher at the University of Texas’ Energy Institute, says this summer will ultimately show how well that’s working.

“If the lights go out because we run out of power plants, then that will be a pretty clear signal that we need some more generation,” he said. “But that’s what these high prices are designed to do.”

The test is probably not finished, with Texas expected to continue breaking power use records in the weeks ahead.

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