Original article published here in the Star-Telegram.
State still has work to do to keep lights on
BY FRANK LACEY
Special to the Star-Telegram
With blazing summer heat ahead, Texans need to know that the electric grid is up to the challenge of keeping millions of air conditioners running at full speed, in addition to powering lights, electronics and other appliances.
Increasingly in the United States, keeping the electricity flowing (and avoiding blackouts) is in the hands of individuals and businesses themselves.
Through a process called demand response, consumers are empowered to manage their electricity usage when the grid is most strained – usually during heat waves or cold spells. In doing so, they improve grid reliability, save money, reduce environmental impact and avoid the need for more power plants.
For individuals, demand response might mean installing a high-tech thermostat that can power down air conditioners for a few minutes. A business might reduce its energy use by shifting its manufacturing processes.
Consumers and businesses in Texas, however, will have to wait to take advantage of demand response opportunities that could save millions of dollars in energy costs.
Bills to expand the use of demand response in Texas did not pass in the recent legislative session.
Still, proponents, including members of the Advanced Energy Management Alliance, are encouraged by a new law that could lead to some progress.
AEMA plans to work during this legislative interim with other electric industry stakeholders to craft broadly supported demand response expansion legislation for 2017.
The future success of demand response is bolstered not only by the state’s growing population and the need for reliable power for new residents, but also by a new study that shows significant possible savings.
A recently released analysis by the South-central Partnership for Energy Efficiency as a Resource found that just a few consumers reducing their electricity use on only five days in 2012 and 2013 could have lowered power costs for all Texans by $209.6 million.
These savings are only the “tip of the iceberg,” said the SPEER analysis, which also noted that the two years studied were actually “mild years.”
Savings during more extreme weather years, such as 2011 when Texans experienced one of the hottest summers in decades, “would be significantly higher,” the report stated.
This underscores what we already know: Demand response could bring huge economic benefits to Texans.
Demand response legislation supported by AEMA — House Bill 3343 by Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, and Senate Bill 1284 by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin — would have required the Electric Reliability Council of Texas to study and report on demand response.
Instead, an amendment to House Bill 4097 requires the Public Utility Commission of Texas and ERCOT to study and report to the Legislature the potential for seawater desalination projects to participate in demand response opportunities.
These projects will provide a helpful example to model the benefits of demand response.
AEMA believes this study will echo what the SPEER report found: Even a small reduction in electric demand translates into big savings.
AEMA urges ERCOT and the PUCT to examine these studies and other data and take steps on their own — without legislative mandate — to grow the use of demand response in Texas.
FRANK LACEY IS CHAIRMAN OF ADVANCED ENERGY MANAGEMENT ALLIANCE AND SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, REGULATORY AND MARKET STRATEGY, FOR CPOWER.