Possible statewide rolling blackouts will not affect UT

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Record levels of electricity use in Texas last week led to concerns about possible statewide rolling blackouts, but such an event would not affect UT because the campus runs its own power grid.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which supplies about 85 percent of the state’s electricity, required several large industrial customers to shut down Thursday when the state set a new demand record at 68,294 megawatts during peak hours Wednesday. The company canceled a power watch Friday in response to reduced demand.

Dottie Roark, a spokeswoman for the council, said high demand could continue if record temperatures persist. The council instituted blackouts in February after extreme cold temperatures led to increased energy use. In high temperatures, people run more air conditioning, which she said strains power generation units.

“The drought is causing some units to have issues with the temperature of the coolant they use for their generation units, which means they may have to run at lower capacity,” Roark said in an email.

Rolling blackouts temporarily shut off power to prevent uncontrolled shutdowns, Roark said.

“Those massive blackouts are very hard to recover from and can take days or weeks to restore the units,” she said.

Juan Ontiveros, UT’s Utilities and Energy Management executive director, said lack of wind, which helps supply the council’s power, has contributed to the company’s difficulties during the heat wave.

“Part of their capacity comes from wind,” Ontiveros said. “One of the problems with high temperatures is that in high temperatures you don’t get wind.”

Ontiveros said the UT power plant provides most buildings on the main campus with electricity, but does not power the Pickle Research Campus. Neither the main campus nor the Pickle Research Campus experienced significant problems when the council last required blackouts Feb. 2.

The UT power grid has not had large increases in demand for this time of year like the city and state, Ontiveros said. If it became necessary to reduce power, the University would turn off the cooling system while chillers would maintain the temperature. A 4-million-gallon cold water storage tank next to the San Jacinto Garage could supply cooling for up to four hours. The University could also use the statewide grid, if necessary.

“We produce all of the power that we need, but we’re connected to [the council],” Ontiveros said.

Austin Energy reached a record in peak electricity usage at 2,685 megawatts Tuesday, said Leslie Sopko, Austin Energy spokeswoman. If asked to shed usage by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the utility would institute blackouts for 10 minutes at a time through 71 of its circuits, while 318 circuits would remain, maintaining emergency services and hospitals.

“We don’t cut off those circuits because those are critical services that we need to keep the lights on,” Sopko said.

Printed on Monday, August 8th, 2011 as: Statewide blackouts feared possible after record electricity use