A blistering heat wave is turning up the pressure on Texas’ power grid

Brandon Pickard cools off while skating at the Heath Eiland and Morgan Moss BMX Skate Park on a hot afternoon Friday June 23, 2023. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — On another 100-degree day in Texas, Sean Whitaker lingered outside a Dallas cafe after polishing off an iced coffee, having switched off the power to everything back home except his refrigerator.

“That’s the reason I’m out,” said Whitaker, 52, finding shade at a patio table.

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As an unrelenting heat wave grips Texas for a second week, public appeals to stay hydrated and limit outdoor activities have come with another ask of the state’s nearly 30 million residents: Conserve electricity if possible as demand on the power grid is stretched to projected record peaks.

An early summer arrival of blistering temperatures — which have been blamed for at least two deaths — is taxing Texas’ power grid that many residents still view nervously two years after a deadly winter blackout. Regulators warn that Texas may offer a preview of what could be tight demand on grids across the U.S. this summer because of extreme temperatures worsened by climate change.

On Tuesday, the Texas grid was operating under an elevated “weather watch” that does not ask residents to curtail power but raises the possibility. Even some energy experts who have been critical of Texas’ grid management consider outages this summer unlikely, saying winter carries bigger risks.

But as scorching temperatures in some parts of Texas climb above 110 degrees (43 degrees Celsius), flirting with records or breaking them outright, air conditioners are cranked and officials are nudging homeowners to be mindful of their electricity usage.

“Please, please do what you can to conserve energy,” said Stuart Reilly, interim general manager of Austin Energy, which serves more than a half-million customers in Texas’ capital.

Forecasters say relief in Texas may not arrive before the Fourth of July holiday. The culprit is a stalled heat dome forged by an unpleasant mix of stationary high pressure, warmer-than-usual air in the Gulf of Mexico and the sun beating overhead, according to John Nielsen-Gammon, the state’s climatologist.

For some, the conditions have been deadly. Last week, a Florida man and his 14-year-old stepson died after hiking in extreme heat at Big Bend National Park in far West Texas, where temperatures soared to 119 degrees (48 degrees Celsius).

In Austin, paramedics have responded to more than 100 heat-related incidents the past two weeks alone, which city officials say accounts for more than half of all of their heat-related emergency calls since April.

Hot weather has not caused rolling outages in Texas since 2006. But operators of the state’s grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, have entered recent summers not ruling out the possibility as a crush of new residents strains an independent system.

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