As the Texas heat pushes up power demand to record highs, ERCOT is ordering plants to run constantly. This is called “reliability unit commitments” to ensure supply. Texas is using the rule more than ever before. It forces power plants to delay maintenance in order to keep producing electricity. That’s helped keep the AC for now, but the stress on the system is maxed out. Though officials have asked residents to try to reduce energy usage, there is a concern about how long power plants can maintain their maxed-out capacity.
Things are Going to Break
Deferring repairs will come back as big trouble for power plants. It’s like any other machine (cars, appliance, air conditioners). To put off preventative maintenance increases the chances for a more comprehensive outage as plants start to malfunction. The state is aware they are tempting fate. A key concern is boiler-tube leaks at older plants. These leaks don’t always mean a plant must shut down, but they can lead to bigger, more costly repairs. ERCOT is in constant contact with power plants generators and works to give them time to make needed repairs when conditions allow. Right now conditions simply do not allow plants to go offline.
It’s a Chick or Egg Conundrum for Electricity Companies
Most companies schedule maintenance during the spring and fall, when the weather is mild and power use is typically lower. But climate change means these windows of temperate weather are getting shorter. In 2022, an early May heat wave forced many electricity generators to skip tune-ups. And periods of high heat are also lasting longer, putting more stress on power plants that are running all-out for weeks at a time.
Maintenance for older power plants is time consuming and complicated. They have to dismantle the plant, which it not something accomplished in a couple of hours. For Texas, this is exacerbated by the state’s aging collection or electricity generators. The average age of coal-powered plants in Texas is about 50 years, and natural-gas plants average about 30 years.
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