Why Do Texas Power Plants Go Offline?

by | Feb 20, 2023 | Industry News

How Important is Maintenance For Texas Power Plants?

Keeping Texas power plants running reliably sometimes means shutting them down for repairs. Find out how going off line can keep generators on line for longer.
Find out why letting Texas power plants go off-line can keep them on-line longer when we need them the most.

Your car needs an oil change every several thousand miles. You should have a physical exam once a year. Your home’s chimney needs inspection every two or three years. Routine maintenance needs are all around us. The same is true for Texas power plants. When electric infrastructure stays well maintained, customers get reliable power and reasonable electric rates. But deferred maintenance can lead to Texas power plants going offline. 

Servicing is a big job for power plants. Firms must get approval from ERCOT for scheduled maintenance. They sometimes schedule the work years in advance. Texans need plants up and running during the hot summer months. So, this work often happens in the fall and spring when demand is lowest. Even though ERCOT included some unplanned outages in their seasonal forecasts, maintenance keeps outages few and far between. So HVAC systems continue to run!

However, many Texas power plants are old and near the end of their useful life. Coal-fired steam power plants average 50 years old, and natural gas-fired power plants average 30 years old. Heat wears out old parts quickly so this makes upkeep especially important. 

Unplanned Outages At Texas Power Plants

Back in December, 150 out of 800 natural gas power plants went off line during the Christmas cold wave. Well, that was not supposed to happen. Natural gas processing capacity dropped by 34 percent. Not only did this cut natural gas to power plants but also gas for heating homes. Governor Greg Abbott requested an investigation into natural gas provider Atmos Energy. It failed to deliver gas to suburban customers near Dallas and Austin. Questions about why and how still need answers.  

Because of reforms after Winter Storm Uri, some gas power plants now keep fuel oil on hand to burn when needed. Texas has otherwise phased out fuel oil from the mix of sources because of how dirty it burns. In this sense, the fuel oil operations act like “peaker plants” which only run when demand makes them necessary. They keep your electric meter running when it otherwise wouldn’t. 

Last May, Texans saw an unusually high number of unplanned outages, due in part to hot weather. Deferred maintenance also play a big part. ERCOT asked several plants to delay repairs planned for that May. Shortly afterward, some plants went offline. ERCOT canceled one plant’s maintenance project the day before it was to begin. 

It isn’t just natural gas and electric plants that need care. Solar farms and wind farms need maintenance, too. Electrical and mechanical parts require inspection to ensure they work as smoothly and as long as possible. And with the average wind turbine standing 280 feet tall, just getting high enough to inspect the turbine machinery inside is an almost aerial feat. 

Maintain Your Home’s Power

So clearly, Texas power plants need upkeep. And you shouldn’t ignore your home’s electric plan, either. Shop for the best rates at https://www.texaselectricityratings.com, and you’ll retain the lowest power bill possible. 

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