On Thursday, a Texas power grid operator said at least one power plant would postpone scheduled repairs and continue to operate to meet demand in May weather hotter than expected.
The next day, the plant still shut down when some of its equipment stopped working properly, according to energy giant Calpine, which owns the plant. Calpine refused to identify the plant.
This was announced by the Texas Electricity Reliability Council shortly after Friday evening six power plants unexpectedly went down and asked the Texans to raise the thermostats to 78 degrees on the weekends and not to use large appliances during the hottest hours of the day to reduce the load on the grid.
“We had a major maintenance shutdown scheduled, which began on Friday, May 13, but it was canceled by ERCOT on May 12,” a Calpine spokesman said in a statement, adding that May is “shoulder month.” , during which generators have historically taken over power plants. offline to do repairs and maintenance in cooler weather.
But this month was warmer than most of May last decade, which led to rising demand for electricity and forced ERCOT to fight to maintain as many plants as possible.
Several other power plants failed on Friday and were unable to produce electricity after ERCOT’s request agreed to postpone a scheduled maintenance shutdown, said Michelle Richmond, who represents power plants nationwide as executive director of Texas Competitive Power Advocates.
This contradicts what the network operator said on Friday when an ERCOT spokesman told The Texas Tribune that maintenance was delayed did not cause any of the six power plant failures. On Tuesday, an ERCOT spokesman said he was checking to see if delays in repairing the power plant, demanded by ERCOT, led to the power plant shutdown on Friday.
A public statement from ERCOT said that “six power plants have been shut down, resulting in the loss of approximately 2,900 MW of electricity” – enough to supply more than 580,000 homes. “At this time, all available backup generation resources are working.”
The brief statement raised more questions than answers, and did not address the location of the plants, whether they were all offline at the same time and why they failed unexpectedly. The weekend passed without serious power outages, as several downed stations returned to the grid by Saturday.
Richmond said ERCOT “applies a top-down approach” in determining when to tell companies to postpone necessary repairs, and “does not take into account what these complex machines need to make sure they perform maintenance.”
“If you start telling generators during the season that they need to perform maintenance that they can’t, then you’re trying to squeeze more out of plants than what is safe and reliable,” she added.
ERCOT approves scheduled maintenance requests from energy companies for months and even years ahead due to the complexity of the work and the need to constantly maintain a minimum level of generating capacity.
In recent weeks, portable toilets, tents and large cargo containers have been assembled at power plants across Texas for repair crews to work at full capacity during the hot Texas summer.
Dozens of contractors at many sites are installing scaffolding – some even attracting cranes to move heavier equipment – and dismantling plant turbines and fixing rotating blades. Depending on the amount of work, the plant may be idle for days or weeks.
“Our companies want to work in the middle of summer, our companies want to work when customers demand that we provide electricity,” Richmond said. “We also want to do it safely and securely. Part of the power plant’s reliability is to perform scheduled maintenance to not only operate safely but also to work at maximum performance, just as you don’t want to perform maintenance on your car when you’re on a cross-country trip. ”
Daniel Kohan, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University, asked how the power plants, which were forced to postpone maintenance, would work when the strongest heat in Texas came this summer.
“I am concerned about how intensely these installations have been launched and that maintenance has been delayed for the conservative operation of the network,” said Kohan, describing ERCOT’s approach since last year’s freezing of more power. “It remains to be seen how much more vulnerable we are to summer outages.”
ERCOT on Monday released its forecast for summer electricity demand. The agency expects a record demand for electricity of 77,317 megawatts. ERCOT said it had increased the amount of reserve power available to the grid, and “it is expected to have sufficient installed generating capacity to meet peak needs for the coming summer season.”
The Texas Public Utilities Commission, which is responsible for ERCOT, is considering a new rule that could shorten the maintenance season if plants can be shut down for repairs. The new rule is based on a provision in Senate Bill 3, the state legislature’s response to last year’s freeze, when millions of people were without electricity for days at sub-zero temperatures and hundreds died after a combination of cold weather and a sharp rise in energy demand cut off electricity. plants as well natural gas facilities which provide them with fuel.
Richmond said the new rule is erroneous because it does not specify specific indicators to notify ERCOT when a plant needs maintenance, which she said could be a problem with a shorter maintenance season.
Officials from several energy companies contacted by the Tribune this week wondered if the rule would give them enough time to make the necessary repairs during the maintenance season because there are a limited number of qualified repair crews and they travel around the country repairing. power plants in the milder months. year Companies have been asked not to be identified because details of the power plant shutdowns have not yet been released by ERCOT.
Kohan said Texans can expect temperatures to rise in the coming decades due to climate change, which will put more pressure on the state’s aging power plants.
“You need to do maintenance someday, and we’ve seen our vulnerability to winter frosts, and we know that our peaks are most often in the heat of summer,” Kohan said. “It really leaves fall and spring as the seasons when you need to do maintenance.”
Disclosure: Calpine, Rice University, and Texas Competitive Power Advocates were financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit nonpartisan information organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune.‘with journalism. Find the complete one list them here.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune on https://www.texastribune.org/2022/05/17/texas-power-plant-failure-repairs-ercot/.
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