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Wind Prevents August Blackouts, But Next Summer A Concern

ERCOT employees monitoring the power grid.

By Shelley Kofler, KERA News

Austin, TX – Energy officials are crediting an unexpected blast of wind with preventing power outages last month. Now they're worried about what will happen next summer.

On August 4,the thermometer in Dallas was inching toward a record 109 degrees. ERCOT, which operates the power grid for most of Texas, said every available plant was producing as much electricity as it could. ERCOT told Texans to prepare for rolling blackouts.

Then the wind along the Gulf coast began to blow.

Smitherman: We got about 1200 megawatts of wind generation which was to some degree unexpected because it was a hot afternoon.

Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman is the former chairman of the state's Public Utility Commission.

Smitherman: Had we not had that wind energy we would have gone dark. Just like had we not had the South Texas Nuclear Project running which was 2300 megawatts we would have been dark as well. The bottom line is we needed everything that day and the wind helped make the difference.

Smitherman says Texas beat the odds that day, but he says we might not be able to avoid power outages next summer unless we add new generating capacity.

Smitherman's warning comes as Texas wrangles with the EPA over new air quality regulations. By next year many coal-fired plants must reduce air pollutants that cross state lines. Texas' largest power generator Luminant has said it won't have enough time to add pollution controls at two of its coal-fired units and will shut them down.

State Representative Jim Keffer, an Eastland Republican, chairs the House Energy Resources Committee. He hopes to avoid the plant closings.

Keffer: I'm very concerned. The meteorologists are telling us that in all likelihood we are in a bad cycle right now. If we take these off, can we replace them with other plants? I don't know. I can't think of anything more devastating that mandatory blackouts.

Keffer believes the new EPA regulations are unreasonable. He supports lawsuits recently filed by the State of Texas and Luminant that ask the courts to block the new pollution rules.

The EPA says it has tried to work with Luminant to avert a shutdown.

Other power companies including NRG Energy say they are making changes at their coal-fired plants and will comply with the new rules.

Smitherman and Keffer discussed the state's energy supply Saturday during the Texas Tribune Festival, a series of discussions on public policy.