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Preparation is key to meeting Texas energy demands

By ALLISON MILES
May 23, 2013 at 12:23 a.m.


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For more information about the South Texas Electric Cooperative, visit stec.org.

The Lone Star State's continued growth means heightened demand on an already stretched energy grid.

Still, agencies are doing their part to plan for future needs.

Brad Jones, vice president of commercial operations for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, spoke Thursday at the South Texas Electric Cooperative's annual meeting. There, he discussed challenges in the electric industry.

Climatologists predict summer 2013 will be much the same as last year, Jones said, with an extremely hot June tailing off in August partnered with dry conditions.

Such weather puts a squeeze on the grid as residential customers crank up the air conditioner and consume more energy.

He said many companies have begun taking high-tech measures to help customers cut back.

Some send out emails reminding them to turn off the air conditioner, he said, while others offer smartphone apps to help manage energy use on the go.

More than 6 million advanced meters already call Texas home, he added. The meters monitor usage every 15 minutes and allow customers an easier way to manage both their usage and bills.

The reliability council is focused on three key methods of ensuring there is enough energy reserve to sustain the state, he said.

Engaging the demand side - people like residential customers - and helping them lower their usage is important, he said, while providing incentives to increase generation is another key step.

Finally, he said, it's important that transmission is there to move that energy around.

STEC has taken measures to make sure it is in a healthy place moving forward, Mike Packard, the organization's general manager, said after Jones' presentation ended.

Progress continues on a 220-megawatt reciprocating engine generator in McAllen, the first of a two-part project, Packard said. STEC is also active in the state's Competitive Renewable Energy Zones program.

"The important thing we do have at STEC is load and finance," Packard said. "With those two elements, we should be in a good position."

Clyde Stewart, director of the San Patricio Electric Cooperative, said he appreciated Thursday's presentation. Certain numbers, specifically those from 2011, were real eye-openers.

While Jones said ERCOT hit its all-time peak in August of that year with 68,305 megawatts, other months rang in closer to the 37,000 range.

Those fluctuations, Stewart said, require companies to plan ahead.

"You have to have the power there, even if you're only really using it for half the year," he said.

For Terry Garcia, operations manager with the San Miguel Electric Cooperative, information such as the summer weather predictions were key. He said he also appreciated the updates regarding companies' efforts to help residents curb their energy use.

Garcia said he's kept a closer eye on his own home's consumption during his time at the plant, turning the air conditioner down during the day, avoiding running his dryer at peak times and so on.

"It was good information," he said of the presentation. "Very interesting."

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