I Wonder: Keeping Austin energized

I Wonder: Keeping Austin energized

I Wonder: Keeping Austin energized

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by REBEKAH HOOD / KVUE.com

kvue.com

Posted on August 15, 2011 at 3:59 PM

Updated Monday, Sep 19 at 6:05 PM

Several weeks of temperatures above 100 degrees have had Austin Energy’s eyes constantly monitoring usage numbers and consumer’s eyes constantly monitoring their thermostats.
 
Because of threats of rolling blackouts to avoid crashing the energy grid, one KVUE viewer wrote to me and said, “My understanding is that the City of Austin did not always belong to a central authority like ERCOT. When the rest of the Texas grid would go down, the City of Austin would remain running. When did this change? Why?”
 
I contacted Austin Energy for an answer, which proved the above statements correct; the City of Austin did not always "belong" to ERCOT.

In 1999, the Texas Legislature passed legislation on retail deregulation. According to Austin Energy spokesman Ed Clark, retail deregulation means that providers could offer power for sale in what had been the exclusive service areas of other electric utilities. Before that legislation, the state was divided into control areas: Austin, Houston, Dallas, Corpus Christi, etc. In case of an emergency, these utilities had agreements with each other on how to handle it. Clark explains:

"If a utility had a power plant trip off line and needed additional power, they would implement those agreements to address their energy shortage. However, if they could not purchase additional power from other utilities to address their system imbalance, they had the responsibility to implement load reductions within their area to bring their system back into balance, including the use of rotating blackouts if needed. Their responsibility was to try to resolve their power imbalance without requiring actions of the statewide grid."

Click here for more information about ERCOT.

In 1999 when ERCOT came into the picture, things changed. Clark says since then, when a community has power problems, the rest of the state helps fix it, and if it can not be fixed, the whole state has to do rotating blackouts if necessary. Clark says this is a better way to maximize resources throughout the state and through economy of scale, reduce energy costs to consumers.

It should also be noted that if rolling blackouts were implemented this summer, more customers in Austin would experience them. Last week, Austin Energy announced they have increased the number of circuits that could be temporarily turned off. Forty-four circuits were turned off last winter during an unusually severe winter storm. Now, 71 circuits are on the rotating blackout plan’s map. However, due to this increase, Austin Energy estimates that an outage for one customer may last only 10 to 15 minutes. To see the map and learn more about the possibility of rotating energy outages, click here.

Due to the recent extreme heat and high energy demand, ERCOT is urging consumers and businesses to conserve energy, especially during the peak electricity hours from 3 to 7 p.m.
You can conserve by:

  • Turn off all unnecessary lights, appliances, and electronic equipment.

  • When at home, close blinds and drapes that get direct sun, set air conditioning thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, and use fans in occupied rooms to feel cooler.

  • When away from home, set air conditioning thermostats to 85 degrees and turn off all fans  before you leave. Block the sun by closing blinds or drapes on windows that will get direct sun.

  • Do not use your dishwasher, laundry equipment, hair dryers, coffee makers, or other home appliances during the peak hours of 3 to 7 p.m.

  • Avoid opening refrigerators or freezers more than necessary.

  • Use microwaves for cooking instead of an electric range or oven.

  • Set your pool pump to run in the early morning or evening instead of the afternoon.

Do you have a question for I Wonder? Send your question to iwonder@kvue.com.

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