Texans told to conserve energy as six power plants go offline amid heatwave

The operator of the main power grid for the state of Texas has asked residents to conserve energy through a likely hot-weather weekend after six power plants unexpectedly went offline.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) asked residents to lower thermostats to 78 degrees Fahrenheit or higher between 3pm and 8pm on Saturday and Sunday and avoid using larger appliances.

“With unseasonably hot weather driving record demand across Texas, ERCOT continues to work closely with the power industry to make sure Texans have the power they need,” the organisation said in a statement on 13 May.

The National Weather Service forecasts an “expansive early season heat wave with potential record high temperatures up to 97 degrees on Saturday and above 100 degrees on Sunday in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Temperatures are expected to remain high through next week.

The federal weather agency warns that “highs in the 90s and 100s may pose athreat to those with poor cooling or heat sensitivities.”

It is unclear why the plants failed on Friday; the failure led to a loss of about 2,900 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 580,000 homes, according to the Texas Tribune.

Operators typically begin asking the public to cut back on electricity usage when a grid falls below a safe margin of excess supply to avoid blackouts.

As of Saturday morning, the ERCOT’s dashboard says “there is enough power for current demand.”

Utility operators often request residents to cut back on electricity use or avoid using large appliances like washers and dryers in anticipation of high energy use periods, like during heatwaves, though Texans are on high alert for grid failures and power outages across the state after millions of people were powerless for days in freezing conditions after a major winter and ice storm surged demand for energy, shutting down power plants and natural gas facilities.

The power crisis killed at least 246 people, though some estimates has listed a death toll that tops 700.

The state spent the following year appointing new regulators and tweaking legislation, but experts contend that the state is just as vulnerable in another winter storm, particularly as the accelerating climate crisis is likely to make such severe weather events more common.

The near-collapse of the state’s electrical grid last year can also be traced to a 1999 decision to effectively deregulate the system by handing control of the state’s electricity delivery infrastructure to a market-based network of private operators and energy systems.

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