UT won’t be affected by electrical blackouts

Nick Hadjigeorge

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas issued a 10-year outlook report last week stating that Texas could face rolling blackouts starting in the summer of 2012 because of reduced energy generation and increased demand.

The report cites potentially extreme summer temperatures and power plant construction problems as factors that require rolling blackouts to maintain the reliability of the electrical grid. ERCOT spokeswoman Dottie Roark said rolling blackouts use controlled power outages to balance the energy supply. Electrical companies cut off energy to different areas in the electrical grid for 15 to 40 minutes until the supply is balanced, Roark said.

Roark said the amount of energy held on reserve should equal 13.75 percent of the total energy generated in order to handle power outages and scheduled maintenance. Given the amount of energy that is currently produced and the expected demand, ERCOT predicts the percentage of energy reserves to drop to 12 percent during the summer of 2012.

“The report is a signal to the market about future energy demands,” Roark said. “It gives them incentives to make new energy plants to meet that demand.”

Roark said ERCOT is attempting to handle the generation shortage by increasing the number of customers paid to shut off their energy use during emergency situations.

Roark said ERCOT is responsible for balancing the supply and demand of energy in Texas in order to make sure the grid’s equipment is always running at the appropriate level. If the demand for energy increases and the energy supply is not enough to handle the demand, the grid equipment can be damaged and cause an uncontrolled blackout.

Juan Ontiveros, UT’s executive director of Utilities and Energy Management, said whether or not the rolling blackouts occur depends on what the energy market does, but the shortages will not affect the UT campus.

“On the main campus, we self-generate all of the energy, including electricity, for the majority of the campus, which includes all of the research facilities,” Ontiveros said. “However, we do rely on the ERCOT grid as a backup in the event we were to experience an unexpected failure of generation.”

Ontiveros said there is little chance for UT’s energy generation facilities to face problems, and the University is committed to meeting the energy needs of the campus.

“The main campus has experienced a reliability of 99.999 percent over the last 35 years,” Ontiveros said. “Over the last 10 years, we have made significant investments in the campus utility systems so that current and future campus energy needs are met reliably and cost-effectively.”

Austin Energy spokesperson Carlos Cordova said all energy companies in Texas have to participate in the rolling blackout even if they have enough energy to meet their demands.

“The voltage has to balance out. Otherwise, it creates even worse outages,” Cordova said. “Rolling blackouts are necessary to prevent a total blackout.”

Cordova said Austin Energy has increased the number of circuits in their system over the past year and will be able to spread outages more evenly throughout the city in the event of a rolling blackout.

Cordova said it is important for people to conserve energy to prevent potential shortages during the winter and summer seasons when energy use reaches its peak.

“Everyone will have to continue to conserve until more generation is brought online,” Cordova said. “Especially if temperatures are as high as last summer and the drought continues.”

Printed on Tuesday, December 6, 2011 as: UT not to be affected electrical blackouts