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As Texas gets hotter, grid operator leaning harder into wind and solar energy to keep up with demand

Solar farms and wind turbines in Texas generated a record high 36 percent of the state’s electricity through the first half of this year — more than twice the amount renewable resources were producing just five years ago. And solar power, which has been growing exponentially, contributed more electricity to the state’s power grid in June than it did for all of 2017. That boom has been welcome this year, as record high temperatures regularly…

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And exponentially expanding solar power contributed more electricity to the state’s power grid in June than it did all of 2017 combined. This growth has been especially appreciated this year, as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas has had to deal with the strain of consistently high temperatures on the grid.

Last week, ERCOT issued a power conservation plea twice because of the high demand for electricity in Texas due to the extreme heat. Both times, it blamed the expected shortfall on lower-than-anticipated generation from wind turbines.

As seen on ExpressNews.com: For CPS customers, the month of May saw a 25 percent increase in their monthly bills, which was a boon for the city of San Antonio.

According to energy researcher Joshua Rhodes of the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin, half of the solar-wind equation is a no-brainer at this time of year.

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In the summer, he said, “Solar is pretty good in Texas.” Solar panels are powered by the same sun that warms our buildings and forces us to use air conditioning.

The alternative half can be troublesome.

On May 11, ERCOT urged the state to cut back on energy consumption, saying that while solar power was generally reaching near full generation capacity, wind generation was generating significantly less than what it had historically generated in this time period.

Since grid operators always account for wind turbines spinning less in the summer months when warmer air slows wind speeds, Rhodes found it odd that ERCOT was blaming low wind output for energy shortages. Because of this, during the summer months, operators intend to rely more on conventional power plants.

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In today’s Express News: A lack of a commercially viable alternative: The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has issued a blackout alert for today, urging residents and businesses in the Lone Star State to conserve energy.

Some natural gas, coal, or nuclear power plants unexpectedly went offline last week, when power demand peaked, and this “feels a little bit frustrating,” Rhodes said. An official at a CPS Energy plant said the facility was shut down due to an unscheduled maintenance issue.

Our thermal plants were down, but we anticipate normal operations this summer,” he explained.

CPS Energy, which is owned by the city of San Antonio, generated 23% of its electricity from gas-fired generators during the months of February through April. Newer generation information has not been made available by the utility.

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Coal-fired Spruce power plant operated by CPS provided 23% of the city’s electricity during that time period earlier this year, while nuclear power at South Texas Nuclear Project accounted for 31%. Based on data from CPS, renewables made up 13% of the total.

Utilities bills have gone up as a result of the roughly doubling price of natural gas over the past year. Higher natural gas prices and sweltering heat drove up power usage by San Antonio residents, increasing their average CPS bill by 25 percent in May compared to the same month a year ago.

In today’s Express News: Interim CEO of ERCOT claims the company underestimated how hot this summer in Texas would get.

The wholesale power market in the state typically sets electricity rates between $25 and $50 per megawatt hour. Power prices are expected to “be the costliest in Texas history” this month, according to Ryan Kronk, a power analyst with the Norwegian research firm Rystad Energy, as of Monday, when they surpassed $1,200 per megawatt hour.

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August’s power costs and demand are typically higher than July’s, so the outlook is not good, he said.

Even so, Rhodes said the expansion of solar and wind power is “really helping the grid out in terms of keeping prices lower than they would be.”

Since roughly half of the United States’ power plants run on natural gas, rising natural gas prices have led to higher electricity rates, according to Rhodes. Because the cost of wind and solar has not increased in the last few years like the cost of natural gas has, renewable energy sources provide a countervailing force. ”

He opined that if we were limited to using only natural gas or coal to generate electricity, prices “would be quite a bit higher.”

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In today’s Express News: Consumers in San Antonio are paying more as CPS Energy’s legal battle with gas suppliers comes to a close.

Prior to the end of the year, CPS Energy is expected to enter into a “tolling agreement” with an existing natural gas power plant. Gas will be supplied to the plant, and CPS will buy the electricity it generates. CPS will be able to shut down some of its other gas-fired units that are more than 50 years old thanks to this agreement.

diego.mendoza-moyers@express-news.net

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