Texas Heatwave is Stressing Power Plants

Texas Heatwave is Stressing Power Plants

A withering heatwave in Texas is taxing the state’s power grid, potentially overwhelming its entire electrical system. Last week, the National Weather Service issued extreme heat warnings to more than half of the counties in the state. Austin experienced its hottest 7-day stretch during July and an all-time high for the month of 110 degrees Fahrenheit. After experiencing its hottest June on record in San Antonio, the city is on course to see a record-breaking July.

Texas power demand is also reaching record highs as people crank the AC to keep cool. To keep up, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the state’s grid, is deferring routine maintenance and repairs. Texas’ coal-powered plants are about 50 years old on average, and its natural-gas plants are about 30 years old, so avoiding tune-ups could cause shutdowns and rolling blackouts down the road.

"Things are going to break,” Michele Richmond, executive director of Texas Competitive Power Advocates, told Bloomberg. We have an aging fleet that’s being run harder than it’s ever been run.”

ABC8 WFAA: Texas' electric grid operator issued an appeal for energy conservation, July 11, 2022.

CBS: Texas power grid concerns ahead of summer, May 20, 2022.

ABC 13: Record Texas heat could push power grid demand to brink, ERCOT warns, May 3, 2022.

Why This Matters

Climate change has made extreme weather the new normal in Texas. Both record-low winter temperatures and record-high summer temperatures have made it harder for the state to generate power, let alone keep up with increased demand. In January, natural gas plants froze, causing electrical production to plummet. Meanwhile, this summer, wind power is operating at less than 10% of its full capacity, making it hard for the grid to meet Texans’ needs.

ERCOT is calling for Texas residents to reduce their energy use to avoid rolling blackouts. Blackouts can be dangerous during periods of extreme heat or cold. The cold front in February 2021 led to 700 deaths and $129 billion in economic damage, while the number of heat-related deaths of Texas workers doubled since 2010.

CBS: Texas swelters in record-breaking heat wave, July 13, 2022.

KVUE ABC: ERCOT | Texas is not ready for extreme weather, November 22, 2021.

CNBC: How Texas’ Tough Winter Exposed US Power Grid Problems, March 26, 2021.

Not Just Texas

Power grids across the US are unprepared for this summer’s extreme heat. A recent North American Electric Reliability Corporation study showed that two-thirds of the country’s power grids are not equipped to handle record-high temperatures, which will cause rolling blackouts and power outages across all 50 states. The nation’s electrical grids are also taxed because Russia’s war with Ukraine has depleted fuel supplies.

The West’s megadrought is also making matters worse. Dry conditions increase the likelihood of power lines sparking wildfires like 2018’s devastating Camp Fire and 2021’s Dixie Fire, California’s second-largest wildfire ever. Moreover, reservoirs with low water levels make hydropower less effective, forcing states to choose between electricity and water.

60 Minutes: How secure is America’s electric grid?, February 27, 2022.

NBC: Extreme Heat Raises Concerns About US Power Grids, June 17, 2022.

CNBC: How the US Can Build a 100% Clean Grid, January 27, 2021.