Only have a minute? Listen instead
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas on Wednesday came closer than it’s been all summer to imposing rolling blackouts for electricity customers in the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere across the state.

ERCOT issued an Energy Emergency Alert 2 at 7:31 p.m. Wednesday due to “a drop in both operating reserves and frequency” caused by extremely high temperatures, high demand for electricity, low wind and waning solar generation into evening. The Level 2 alert — the last step before blackouts are imposed — allowed ERCOT to tap additional reserve resources to avoid that scenario.

The organization, which manages 90 percent of the state’s power load, advised Texans via X (formerly Twitter) to “please safely reduce electric use and have a plan to stay safe in case outages become necessary.”

The emergency alert, which lasted 77 minutes, came on the heels of ERCOT issuing a Conservation Appeal for 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday. Nearly identical conditions were expected Thursday, and shortly after 11 a.m. a subsequent Conservation Appeal for 5 to 9 p.m. was issued. The same conditions are anticipated over the next several days at least.

ERCOT has not had to impose rolling blackouts, or “load shedding,” since the deadly winter storm of February 2021. The Public Utility Commission of Texas has echoed ERCOT’s recent calls for conservation. The organizations are calling on government agencies, including city and county offices, “to implement all programs to reduce energy use at their facilities.”

ERCOT said it is also calling on large-scale electric customers to voluntarily reduce their usage and is “bringing more generation online sooner.” The grid manager said it has asked the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for a waiver to allow power generators to extend operations if necessary to help meet demand and that it is also working with out-of-state independent grid system operators to secure additional power generation capacity.

Texas is the only state with its own electric grid independent from other states, with limited ability to draw power from grids in surrounding states. With its grid unconnected to other states, Texas largely avoids oversight by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Progress Texas noted that ERCOT has asked Texans to conserve power 10 times so far this summer and 25 percent of the month of August, blaming the situation on the state’s majority leadership.

“Electricity is a basic component of civilized life, and the fact that Texans face this threat on the regular is a clear sign of the abject failure of decades of Republican statewide officials to put people over profits,” said Chris Mosser, the group’s podcasting director.

The sun rises over power lines Tuesday, June 27, 2023, in Houston. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas on Wednesday came closer than it’s been all summer to imposing rolling blackouts. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

ERCOT said it has set 10 new all-time peak demand records so far this summer and set 11 new peak demand records last summer, with a high of 80,148 megawatts (MW) on July 20, 2022.

A new all-time unofficial peak demand record of 85,435 MW on August 10 of this year, and a new peak demand record for September of 81,674 MW on Sept. 5.

The Brownsville Public Utilities Board issued a request for voluntary conservation Thursday afternoon, echoing ERCOT’s appeal. BPUB recommended increasing the temperature on home air conditioning thermostats “a couple of degrees” and turning off and unplugging non-essential lights and appliances.

“Avoid running large appliances such as washers, dryers and electric ovens during peak energy demand hours, 6 to 9 p.m.,” said the utility.