Message fatigue from “calls for conservation” could be a problem by the end of what is predicted to be an extra-hot summer, the Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board of Directors was warned at its regular meeting Friday, May 20. Staff updated the board on processes for notifying the public when high summer temperatures threaten to disrupt power.
The Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) put out the first call for conservation of the year on May 13 due to unusually hot weather. Texans were asked to raise their thermostats to 78 degrees and not use large appliances from 3-8 p.m. through that weekend to avoid power disruptions. The alerts made statewide and national news as well as reports on local TV stations.
“It was kind of strange to pull up KVUE and KXAN (Austin TV news outlets) and see this is a top news story,” said David Thompson, vice president of Markets for PEC.
J.P. Urban, executive vice president of External Relations for PEC, explained it further. Urban is a former executive director of the Public Utility Commission.
“What happened on Friday the 13th of May was kind of new for us,” he said. “They did call for conservation and conditions that, before, they would not have. After the call for conservation, I would say they rebranded it as a ‘request’ for conservation. That’s kind of a new thing.”
According to ERCOT, the statewide system lost 2,900 megawatts of electricity after six power-generation facilities tripped offline.
Temperatures rose to the high 90s and low 100s on May 13 — unseasonably hot for that time of year — adding to the concern that a systemwide increase in demand could cause brownouts or blackouts.
A lack of wind generation also led to the extra precautions, Thompson told the board. And with peak electricity demand coming at the end of the day and not the middle, solar power could not generate enough backup to make a difference.
Thompson re-emphasized that the call for conservation from the Public Utility Commission was unusual under the circumstances.
“We have to get into the extremes before there is an issue,” he said. “We didn’t see the kind of megawatts that were reported as outages. We didn’t see those numbers.”
Urban brought up the problem of message fatigue that could come with too many calls for conservation.
“My concern is if they are changing the parameters on the call for conservation, we’ll be dipping into conservation more than ever this summer,” he said. “Typically, conservation is called for from the control room when they see something happening. I believe they saw the units trip and pulled the trigger and called for conservation, whereas, they had plenty of reserves.”
ERCOT recently released its summer peak demand forecast, predicting that the coming summer will be similar to the summer of 2019, which showed an all-time seasonal peak of 75,000 megawatts.
The report also showed that Texas has 22.8 percent more energy over the forecasted peak demand.
“That is a very healthy reserve margin,” said PEC CEO Julie Parsley.
ERCOT put out 11 calls for conservation in the past five years. Five of those were in 2019. None were picked up by national news until the May 13 call as all eyes have been on Texas since the 2021 winter storm, when much of the state was out of power for days. Texas is not part of the national electric grid system.
The PEC board met in executive session to discuss 17 agenda items. The executive session lasted four hours. The board’s open session was one hour and 22 minutes long.
Of the 17 agenda items, five resolutions were approved. Details on four of these will be released to the public when all instruments have been filed, according to the resolutions.
Resolution #2022-177a — transfer and release from lien and acquisition of land in substitution in Johnson City. The resolution asserts that the two pieces of property to be swapped are of equal value and the one owned by PEC is “no longer necessary or advantageous in the business of the Cooperative.”
Resolution #2202-177b — purchase of real property located in Travis County.
• Resolution #2022-187 — approval of power supply contractual resources, amending a wholesale power agreement with the Lower Colorado River Authority dated Jan. 5, 2011.
Resolution #2022-188 — commending Parsley for her job as CEO of the cooperative, which she began in late 2017.
Resolution #2022-189 —approval of advance fleet management vehicle/equipment acquisition for 2023-25. Because of supply chain issues, the board approved the resolution to allow staff to begin pre-ordering vehicles and equipment at the earliest date to give vendors three fiscal years to deliver and receive payment.