Nearly half of Texas’ installed wind power generation capacity has been offline because of frozen wind turbines in West Texas, according to Texas grid operators.
Wind farms across the state generate up to a combined 25,100 megawatts of energy. But unusually moist winter conditions in West Texas brought on by the weekend’s freezing rain and historically low temperatures have iced many of those wind turbines to a halt.
As of Sunday morning, those iced turbines comprise 12,000 megawatts of Texas’ installed wind generation capacity, although those West Texas turbines don’t typically spin to their full generation capacity this time of year.
Fortunately for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s electric grid, the storm’s gusty winds are spinning the state’s unfrozen coastal turbines at a higher rate than expected, helping to offset some of the power generation losses because of the icy conditions.
“This is a unique winter storm that’s more widespread with lots of moisture in West Texas, where there’s a lot of times not a lot of moisture,” said Dan Woodfin, Senior Director of System Operations for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. “It’s certainly more than what we would typically assume.”
Wind power has been the fastest-growing source of energy in Texas’ power grid. In 2015 winder power generation supplied 11% of Texas’ energy grid. Last year it supplied 23% and overtook coal as the system’s second-largest source of energy after natural gas.
In Austin, wind power supplies roughly 19% of the city’s energy demands, all of which is passed from producers to consumers across the state grid. The city began adding several megawatts of wind energy capacity to its renewable energy portfolio in the 1990s from both West Texas and Gulf Coast wind farms.
The frozen turbines come as low temperatures strain the state’s power grid and force operators to call for immediate statewide conservation efforts, like unplugging non-essential appliances, turning down residential heaters and minimize use of electric lighting.
Electric demand is expected to exceed the state’s previous winter-peak record set in January 2018 by 10,000 megawatts. And peak demand expected for Monday and Tuesday is forecasted to meet or exceed the state’s summertime record for peak demand of 74,820 megawatts.
“Typically the ERCOT system peaks in the summer because of the air conditioning load, but we’re seeing forecasts of overall demand being that high in the next few days,” Woodfin said.
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