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Monday, August 8, 2011

Weather Emergency Plagues Texas: Heat, Drought, and Rolling Blackouts (ContributorNetwork)

Hot weather has plunged Texas into a weather emergency. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas says the state broke its peak usage record Thursday, consuming 60,157 megawatts of power. The previous record of 57,606 megawatts was set in 2000.

The potential for rolling blackouts looms, and Texas utilities are encouraging residents to turn off all unnecessary appliances to minimize the necessity of implementing rolling blackouts. Utilities use rolling blackouts when electricity usage skyrockets to avert more serious power outages. Thursday, utilities avoided imposing the unpopular rolling blackouts on the general public by ordering several large industries on the Gulf Coast to turn off their power. The industrial users selected for turn-off volunteered to be called upon for shutdowns in emergencies in exchange for lowered rates.

When rolling blackouts are implemented, waves of consumers usually lose power for 15 to 45 minutes each. ERCOT has yet to use its rolling outage authority during a heat wave. When it last used its authority during a spate of frigid weather in February, residents were not happy with the sudden disruption. Utilities said at that time they could not provide advance warning of specific customers to be targeted with the blackouts, leaving customers to fend with the uncertainty, including sudden school closings.

ERCOT continues to ask citizens to conserve energy as temperatures and electricity demand remain dangerously high. The Texas grid gave some of its power generators a break Friday, causing a loss of 4,000 to 5,000 megawatts. ERCOT spokesperson Dottie Roark compared what's happening with the electric generation units to a car overheating. She told the Texas Tribune that after sustained use they need to be taken offline for a break to prevent them from overheating and tripping offline.

Texas has been withering this summer under the worst heat experienced since the state began keeping records in 1895. In both June and July, temperature broke the records for average highs. Not only that, state residents are contending with a drought that's shaping up to be the driest year since 1956. Texas needs four-and-a-half inches of rain in August and September to avoid setting a drought record.

Climatologists are split on whether Texas may face more drought this winter with La Ni±a influences or a return to normal rainfall levels. Combination of drought conditions and high temperatures has decimated the state's agriculture and threatened its wildlife- most of its wildlife, anyway.

There is one wildlife constituency getting some respite due to sustained triple digit temperatures in Texas. The heat drove the state's feral hogs into hiding. Those hogs would undoubtedly be relieved to learn that their exodus caused a reality television show in which they were to be gunned down from helicopters to be postponed.

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