This past month, we experienced refreshing, cool and somewhat wet weather in Texas. However, those working on energy issues know all too well that this weather change doesn't mean we have escaped the worst of the “energy crunch.” As the farmers say: “If you don’t like the weather in Texas, wait ten minutes and it will change.” Despite cooler temperatures, an unplanned power plant outage during a warm day late last month forced the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) to issue an advisory, demonstrating just how quickly things can change.
At the same time, recent ERCOT reports indicate that reserves will be tight this summer due to an anticipated record level of high energy demand and stunted growth in new electricity resources – thus making conservation notices likely and rolling outages probable. All of this points to the important role conservation programs, like demand response, can play for ERCOT. Some ERCOT staff and stakeholders have recognized the importance of demand response, which allow customers to voluntarily reduce electricity use in response to a signal from utilities. Others have called explicitly for programs that pay customers for reducing energy the same way generators are paid for producing energy, an approach EDF has advocated for several years.
ERCOT and a few retail electric providers already have conservation programs, albeit limited, in pilot phases that compensate customers for their participation. But in comparison to other regions, Texas lags far behind other states – despite having the highest potential for conservation and clean energy resources in the U.S. That’s why the three remaining weeks of the legislative session are so important: two critical pieces of legislation that would open up demand response in Texas to meet our electricity reliability goals and drive further market competition are under review.
Senate Bill (SB) 1351 from Senate Business & Commerce Chairman John Carona would require ERCOT to allow customers to participate in all competitive energy markets; the bill passed the Senate earlier this week and is now on its way to the House of Representatives. SB 1351 is an excellent piece of legislation to propel demand response in Texas, but alone it is not enough to ensure Texas can keep the lights on during the hottest summer days. A separate bill from Senator Kirk Watson, Senate Bill (SB) 1280, would accomplish just that by requiring ERCOT to secure enough demand response to meet its reliability needs if existing resources fall short; the bill passed unanimously out of the Senate Business & Commerce committee.
These bills will make all the difference this summer and for many summers to come. The Texas Legislature has the opportunity to ensure that ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission (PUC) have all the necessary tools to avoid rolling blackouts over the next several years as we wait for new energy resources to come online. Read More