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Strain on power grid increasing; rolling blackouts possible

August 5, 2011

Water's not the only thing that could be in short supply this summer.

The record-breaking string of triple-digit-temperature days this summer has put an increasing strain on the state's electricity grid. And that strain is getting close to the breaking point.

Officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which oversees the state's power grid, came close to ordering rolling blackouts because of low electricity reserves Thursday. And that action is still very possible if demand remains at such high levels.

“What they're telling us … is the ERCOT grid is at a stage where (electricity) reserves are below 17,000 megawatts,” said Jim Clement, area manager for Oncor. “We're pretty much at a critical stage until we can find a way to get the load down.”

The problem, Clement said, isn't with the grid's transmission capability as it is with the power generating end of the equation. And those generators have become extremely taxed because of high demand during these extremely hot days.

Thursday, ERCOT instituted Level 2 restrictions, meaning it essentially paid some large commercial consumers to shut off their power and asked residential consumers to voluntarily cut back on electrical usage.

If things continue as they have for the past few days, however, ERCOT may institute rolling blackouts to both commercial and residential customers, Clement said.

The rolling blackouts, which will last between 15 and 30 minutes, could come with little or no warning, Clement said.

“Basically, everything you've got on will be shut off,” he said. “the blackouts would be scattered across the (ERCOT) system, wherever they're overloaded.”

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