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Electricity Demand Reaches Another Record

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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM/AP) – Power demand in Texas hit another record level Wednesday and flirted with knocking industrial plants offline as drought-stricken cities statewide endured another afternoon of temperatures that soared past 100 degrees.

An electric grid teetering on overload nearly caused the Electric Reliability Council of Texas to temporarily cut off some heavy commercial power users, such as chemical plants along the Gulf Coast. By late Wednesday, however, the so-called Level 2 restrictions had been averted.

But power consumption in Texas was still pushed to the limit: Peak demand exceeded 68,000 megawatts, just north of a new all-time record set Tuesday. That again prompted ERCOT to implement its Level 1 measures, which involves asking Texans to conserve power.

In a room at a secure, undisclosed location near Dallas Wednesday, a team from Oncor watched a maze of monitors and maps, trying to keep the power from going out while temperatures shot up to 109 degrees in some areas.

“This is essentially the air traffic controller for electricity,” said Chris Schein, an Oncor employee.

Families like the Stevenses, from Fort Worth, are hoping it all works. They’re leaving for vacation Thursday and some of their pets are staying home. It was 81 degrees in their house Wednesday night.

They don’t want to imagine what temperature it will be if outages are necessary.

“The safest place you would think, would be in your house,” Robert Stevens said. “But your house is over 100 degrees ’cause you had a blackout and you don’t know it…”

After they’re determined to be necessary, Schein said calculations determine whether the rolling outages will last 10 minutes, 20 minutes or 30 minutes. Residents won’t be affected until the third emergency level is called for.

“What we do is we rotate to the different feeder areas,” Schein said.

But so far, ERCOT and Oncor haven’t had to do that. Teams are monitoring screens that contain data on everything from individual transmission lines to the weather.

Yet there’s one dial that gathers more attention than the other tracking devices in the Oncor room: When it’s signaled ‘green,’ it means the power supply is good. But yellow, as it was the past two days, mean there’s less than 2,300 megawatts in the state’s reserves, which lead to the emergency advisories.

One megawatt can power about 200 air conditioned homes in hot weather and 500 normally.

“If it ever moves into the red area, that means we’re in a dangerous situation and we don’t have enough electricity to meet demand,” Schein said.

It’s taking constant monitoring and calculation in all corners of the state to keep that from happening. And the Stevens family is counting on all of it working.

“I would rather stay out here than stay in my house if that ever happened,” said Robbie Stevens, Robert’s son.

ERCOT, which operates the state’s bulk transmission grid, is making the appeal each afternoon this week as record afternoon heat breeds record demand for electricity.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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