City Hall

Tomorrow, the Dallas City Council Will Explore How We Keep the Lights From Going Out

In light of a few things -- namely the one-year anniversary of the most widespread rolling blackout in Texas history; the razor-thin reserve margins that left the state teetering on the verge of more rolling blackouts during that hot-as-hell summer; and ERCOT's assertion that there aren't enough plants to power Texas from 2013 on -- the Dallas City Council apparently thought it was prudent to have a chat about the state of the Texas grid and what it means for the city during its meeting this Wednesday.

Representatives from ERCOT and Oncor, the power transmission company, will be giving presentations. Here's what they'll likely talk about:

Dan Woodfin, ERCOT's director of system planning, will probably toss around the latest buzzword that's scaring the crap out of lawmakers: "Resource adequacy." It means that, come this summer, or maybe the next, there won't be enough power generation to meet those peak demand times in the heat of summer and the cold of winter.

The problem, he'll explain, is that gas prices fell through the floor because the fracking boom glutted the market. And since the price of electricity in Texas is set 90 percent of the time by natural gas, profit margins these days are slim. Nobody has any incentive to build new power plants. This is exactly the opposite of how an energy-only, deregulated market is supposed to work, but that's the subject of a much longer story ...

Charles Elk, VP for Oncor Dallas customer relations, will explain how it responds to grid emergencies. Electricity supply and load demand must match. When it doesn't, uncontrolled blackouts affecting millions of Texans can result. If the available generation can't meet the system load, ERCOT may order transmission entities like Oncor to shed load, which causes a rolling blackout.

So, you know, if you're at all interested in why Texas will face significant obstacles to keeping the lights on, drop by or tune in.

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Brantley Hargrove