New Study by Federal Regulator Raises Electricity Reliability Concerns for California and Texas

A new report issued by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) expresses significant electricity reliability concerns for California and Texas, which could potentially lead to blackout or brownout situations this summer if left unresolved.

NERC is an international regulatory authority that was established to evaluate the reliability of the bulk power system in North America. It is subject to oversight of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as well as regulations by the Canadian government. The agency conducts periodic assessments of bulk power systems across eight regional entities and in its most recent Summer 2012 assessment found that grid managers in California and Texas may have significant trouble meeting load demands because of plant outages and continued power demand in the Lone Star State.

The Electric Reliability Corporation of Texas (ERCOT) is the nation's first independent system operator and it serves roughly 23 million customers in Texas and manages approximately 85 percent of the state's electric load. NERC's report found that peak demand has increased by 1100 megawatts from their 2011 assessment, where last year the state experienced record power demand of 68,867 megawatts and sustained six rolling power emergencies from an excessive heat wave. This year's report also found that ERCOT's anticipated reserve margin (essentially back up operations to meet peak demand) levels were below NERC recommendations. According to the report, "If ERCOT incurs an above average number of generation outages or experiences record‐breaking electricity demand due to the onset of extreme temperatures again this summer, ERCOT may need to initiate rotating outages to maintain the reliability of the interconnection."

NERC's report highlighted the potential reliability implications in Southern California of the San Onofre nuclear power plant remaining off-line during peak demand months in the summer. The plant has been shutdown since January 2012 because of a leak found in a steam generating tube and further inspections found unexpected wear of other key tubes in the unit's steam generators. San Onofre provides 2200 megawatts of power to more than 1.5 million customers in Southern California and the continued shutdown could cause significant load shedding in the Los Angeles and San Diego area. NERC stated "In California, with 14,000 MW (megawatts) of expected import transfers from neighboring areas, increased reliance on transmission ties to import the required power could further stress the system."