DART's Keeping an Eye on ERCOT's Warnings, But TRE's Gonna Have to Slow 'Er Down Now

With each passing day this week, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas sets a new record for peak demand -- and today is no different. One day after hinting that rolling blackouts may be headed our way, ERCOT sends word that at 2:50 this afternoon it initiated Energy Emergency Alert Level 1, meaning reserves dropped below an acceptable level. (2,300 megawatts, if you must know, which is not enough to get you back to the future. But little-known fact: 2,300 megawatts = one Mike Watt.) And that ain't the half of it, according to Kent Saathoff, vice president of system planning and operations for The Grid:

Forecast for peak demand today is more than 68,684 MW, exceeding yesterday's new all-time record of 67,929 MW. Prior to this year, the record was 65,776 MW (Aug. 23, 2010).

"There's a possibility that we may have to go to a level 2 emergency today which authorizes operators to drop the interruptible loads -- large customers paid to be dropped in a level 2 emergency. Dropping the load resources provides extra capacity for the remaining customers," Saathoff said.

Now, keep in mind: A Level 1 Emergency just triggers a power-conservation watch, which you're no doubt already doing by cutting off the A/C, sitting in a bathtub full of ice and using a Crazy Straw to drink from several chilled bottles of Vinho Verde whilst full-blasting this bootleg of Spiritualized performing at the Gypsy Tea Room in 2003. (Well, I am.) Level 2 is when ERCOT starts to cut power -- at first, to commercial and industrial clients who're actually "paid to be dropped in a level 2 emergency." Level 3 is when you start to see interruptions in service.

Which reminds me: Earlier in the day, Dallas Area Rapid Transit warned riders that "blackouts could affect our signals system and that would force us to operate trains more slowly." Morgan Lyons, DART spokesman, tells Unfair Park that a DART senior manager talks to ERCOT "throughout the day," but "they are random and rolling, so about the time we get something in place, there's a blackout somewhere else. The good news is they haven't done one that's affected us. But we have to watch and respond."

And while we were on the phone, moments ago, Lyons got an email from TRE staff saying that they're reducing speeds to 40 miles per hour to avoid problems like "sun kinks," or rail warping, which will cause delays as long as 30 minutes. Speaking of Kinks.

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