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LP&L Discusses ERCOT Grid Transition, Preparations For Potential Winter Storms

Lubbock Power and Light substation on Elgin Ave.
Rob Avila
Texas Tech Public Media
Lubbock Power and Light substation on Elgin Ave.

Lubbock Power and Light (LP&L) is more prepared than ever to handle potential winter storms, according to their spokesperson, Matt Rose.

Earlier this year, Winter Storm Uri left millions of Texans without power in February. Lubbock experienced less severe outages in comparison. Rolling power outages were onlyimplemented by the city for a few hours over a two-day period.

At the time, Lubbock was connected to both the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) power grid —which provides electricity to about 90 percent of the state— and the Southwest Power Pool, a power grid which runs through the Panhandle and extends toward Canada. But since the storm, LP&L —the city’s largest electricity provider— has transitioned most of Lubbock to ERCOT’s grid,with plans to fully integrate by 2023.

Rose said the investments LP&L made preparing to switch to ERCOT’s gridsince the transition started in 2015, were instrumental in keeping Lubbock from experiencing the blackout’s seen across the state in February.

The company spent hundreds of millions upgrading transmission lines, implementing advanced power meters, building new power substations and renovating existing substations. The improvements, along with the city’s investment in backup generators at water pumping stations, are what Rose said helped meet the demands of citizen’s power usage during the winter storm.

“You've seen it in reports that have come out in San Antonio and Austin in the last few weeks that they don't have backup generation, a lot of these facilities,” he said. “Notice we never got to that point here, even though we were rotating outages, because all of our key systems were safe.”

Texas lawmakers have since passed legislationto address the problems ERCOT’s grid experienced during freezing weather. The changes led the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to adopt new regulations and guidelines in October, which require power companies to use “best efforts” to ensure operations continue during winter conditions.

Energy experts said the changes may not be enough to prevent another crisis. Last month ERCOTreleased an assessment which estimated that blackouts could still occur, even with new winter preparations by power plants this year.

But in a press conference last Wednesday, PUC chairman Peter Lake dismissed the assessment as a “scenario analysis” and not a “prediction tool.” He assured Texans “the lights will stay on” this winter.

“The ERCOT grid is stronger and more reliable than ever,” he said. “We go into this winter knowing that because of all of these efforts, the lights will stay on.”

Rose said he’s encouraged by the increased emphasis on reliability he’s seen from new ERCOT leadership. While they view the winter storm in February as a rare event, he said LP&L has made new preparations for freezing conditions.

For the coming winter in Lubbock, Rose said Lubbockites may still expect to see calls to conserve energy at various points. But he wants people to know the measures are not mandatory.

“All these things help the grid stability, but they also save you money as the end consumer,” he said. “So it's kind of a win win.”

Rob Avila, J.D, is a reporter at Texas Tech Public Media. You can follow him on social media @Robavila_TTUPM.