Texas coal plant owners reject plea to restart the plant ahead of winter

Grid operators in Texas are worried that the state might not have enough reliable power plants to keep the lights on this winter. As a result, they are asking the retired J.T. Deely coal plant to return to service. Unfortunately, the plant’s owners cannot return the plant to service before winter hits, potentially leaving the state vulnerable to deadly winter blackouts.

Texas is a mess

Texas narrowly avoided rolling blackouts this summer because the state has experienced a significant increase in demand for electricity without a corresponding increase in reliable power plant capacity to ensure the lights stay on.

My colleague Mitch Rolling noted that the Texas grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), has not added any reliable thermal capacity on net since 2003, despite the fact that the peak demand on the system has increased by over 40 percent.

This means the demand growth has effectively soaked up ERCOT’s excess firm capacity, and any future demand growth will need to be met with the state’s wind and solar facilities.

This was possible last summer because peak electricity demand for air conditioning is generally accompanied by high solar output. However, this will not work in the wintertime when electricity use for home heating will cause electricity demand to peak at nighttime when solar panels are useless. If a cold front hits Texas and the wind doesn’t blow, it could be a repeat of the blackouts of 2021.

It won’t be long before grid operators in Minnesota’s neck of the woods are issuing similar calls for coal plants to remain in service to maintain reliability. We would be wise to keep these coal plants running for the foreseeable future, but if they are going to be shut down, they should be mothballed, instead of destroyed for use in emergency situations when operating reserves are tight.