Texas power grid forecasts show a potential need for conservation next week as temperatures rise and electricity demand increase — possibly to record levels.

Residents across the state could be called on to conserve, though officials with the Public Utility Commission (PUC) and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) say they’re confident the state will not endure the same kind of forced electricity shutoffs seen during February’s winter storm crisis.

Texas has never experienced widespread blackouts during summer months. Still, that’s typically when the state sees its highest electricity demand, mostly driven by the need for air conditioning.

As temperatures across Texas rise into the upper 90s and low 100s, ERCOT Interim CEO Brad Jones said demand could surpass the record of 74,820 megawatts set in August 2019. One megawatt can power around 200 homes on a hot summer day. Texas sees electricity demand set new records nearly every summer as temperatures rise.

“We believe next week looks good,” Jones said. “Based on all of our expectations, all of our forecasts, we believe we have plenty of generation to meet the needs of Texans.”

CPS Energy officials also say they’re well-positioned for the coming heat. Kevin Pollo, CPS Energy’s interim vice president of energy supply and market operations, said the utility doesn’t expect demand to break CPS Energy’s record of 5,160 megawatt, also set in August 2019.

“It’s been a little cooler here recently, so I know the air conditioners maybe haven’t been running as hard,” Pollo said. “I certainly encourage customers to conserve whenever they can.”

CPS Energy’s fleet of natural gas, nuclear, and coal power plants, along with its array of solar and wind generators, allow it to participate in the ERCOT market and avoid being whiplashed by spikes in the price of wholesale power on the Texas grid.

“We’ve been able to work things so far this summer to where we, when we have had a unit that has needed to be taken offline for maintenance, we’ve been able to do it at a time when we didn’t need it for our customers and the state didn’t need [it] for the larger grid,” Pollo said.

The update from power industry officials comes five months after the winter storm left more than 4.5 million households without power for multiple days in freezing conditions. Officials recently revised the death toll up to 210.

During its regular session that ended in June, the Texas Legislature passed a bill that required the PUC and ERCOT to do more to ensure power plants and transmission lines can operate during extreme heat and cold.

Peter Lake, appointed as chair of the PUC in April, expressed confidence about a pending overhaul of the Texas power market when speaking to reporters Thursday.

“Overall, we’re in a good position,” Lake said. “We have clear direction and a strong mandate from the Legislature and the governor. We have the tools we need to do the job. And we’ve got the support of stakeholders and industry participants across the board.”

Such assurances may not ease the public’s jitters about the power grid that serves 26 million households. It didn’t help that in June, during weather that fell on the hotter side of normal, ERCOT issued calls for people to turn their thermostats to 78 degrees, turn off lights, and unplug unused appliances.

These kinds of conservation warnings could become more common during extreme weather, Lake said.

“Conservation for electricity is about the little things for a few hours at a time,” Lake said. “It’s a simple thermostat change, it’s waiting to run your dishwasher or your washing machine machine overnight instead of when you get home from work at five o’clock; it’s closing your shades and blinds.”

Lake went on to compare electricity conservation to calls for water conservation during drought.

“Cities and water providers across the state have summer restrictions on lawn watering or washing your car,” Lake said. “It’s not much different than that.”

However, Lake said regulators are also planning significant shifts away from what he called a “crisis-based business model,” where power generation companies can earn more when conditions on the grid are uncomfortably tight for consumers.

“If these private companies are generating power in Texas, we want them to be paid for generating reliably and consistently without the grid having to get to crisis mode,” Lake said.

Details about these coming reforms scarce, with Lake adding that “what that looks like under the hood, we don’t know yet.”

“The market redesign, the structure of it, will be established by the end of the year, if not sooner, depending on which mechanism and gears need to be turned,” Lake said. “The implementation could take longer.”

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is the San Antonio Report's environment and energy reporter.