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ERCOT Asks Customers To Conserve Energy In Wake Of Blackout Fiasco

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The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s agency that has authority over the Texas electric grid, asked its customers on Tuesday, April 13th to conserve energy to limit power outages and increased demand for electricity due to cold weather that is plaguing segments of the Lone Star state.

The request comes about two months after a sudden winter freeze that plunged up to 4.5 million residents into darkness, killed more than 100 people, and forced the increase of the cost of power to about $2,000 for one megawatt hour from an average of about $30 this time last year.

ERCOT had ordered the rolling blackouts in February due to a massive snowstorm and severe cold temperatures that forced 46,000 megawatts offline, including 28,000 thermal units and 185 other units that were tripped offline. The electric grid in Texas is not connected to any portion of the electric grid that services the remaining 48 states of the continental United States.

The outages lasted an average of 15 to 45 minutes in each region of the state. Even today, conservation is still critical for ERCOT, which urges Texans to limit and reduce their electric use as much as possible.

The agency requests customers take a variety of steps to reduce power usage. These include:

  • Turning down thermostats to 68-degrees
  • Close shades and blinds to limit the lost of heat through windows
  • Turn off and unplug non-essential lights and appliances
  • Avoid using large appliances

The causes of the outages included:

  • Non-operational power plants because of routine maintenance
  • Plants failed to operate in the cold.
  • Some plants didn’t have an adequate amount of natural gas that could be converted into electricity.

This was not the first time that Texas had been plunged into such a catastrophe. In 2011, a deep freeze caused extensive power outages, but not to the level experienced in February of this year.

Customers’ bills varied significantly. Residents with variable-rate power plans are the worst off because these plans charge different prices depending on how much demand there is. The more demand, the higher the price.

On average, most people favor variable-rate plans because the cost of electricity is low when weather conditions are normal and permits people to use more electricity when the demand is lower.

One company named Griddy offered the most popular wholesale plans. As conditions got worse, the company unprecedentedly advised their customers to switch to a different electricity provider, but it was too late because switching companies takes too much time. Meanwhile, the price of electricity jumped dramatically.

As a result of the debacle, customers of Griddy complained about their situation on social media where many showed examples of how high their electric bills were.

Later, Griddy blamed ERCOT. The Public Utility Commission of Texas demanded ERCOT allow prices to increase to replicate the lack of supply. So, electricity prices exploded.

The average price for electricity in Texas in the winter is about 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The utility commission permitted prices to increase to $9 per kilowatt-hour.

The Attorney General of Texas initiated an investigation.

In the wake of the disaster, class-action lawsuits against ERCOT were announced.

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