ERCOT board approves South Texas transmission upgrades to meet exponential anticipated growth

ERCOT’s board of directors on Sept. 18 approved a package of transmission upgrades for an area of south Texas that is experiencing considerable load growth due to increased oil and gas exploration and production.

“We’re seeing significant load growth in [several] areas where oil and gas exploration and production are increasing,” an ERCOT spokesperson told TransmissionHub Sept. 26. That increased demand is putting additional strain on the transmission systems in those areas.

In the Eagle Ford Shale area of Dimmit, La Salle and McMullen counties, demand on the South Texas Electric Cooperative (STEC), Karnes Electric Cooperation (KEC) and Medina Electric Cooperative (MEC) systems has exceeded the systems’ capability, according to a presentation given to the board by ERCOT’s regional planning group (RPG).

Future load increases based on committed customer requests show the situation is only going to get worse, with demand expected to increase by 247 MW. Total existing load in the area is 28 MW, the RPG said in its presentation.

Proposed transmission enhancements include construction of a new 47-mile, double-circuit 138-kV transmission line from Tilden to Fowlerton to Reveille, three new substations, five new capacitor banks and various other system enhancements. The package of improvements is estimated to cost $57m. The enhancements will support future reliability of the system, ERCOT noted.

The board also received an update on transmission congestion in West Texas. “The West Texas load zone is a very big challenge because it’s not just fracking; there’s a variety of oil activities” in that area, the spokesperson said. “We are seeing significant load growth, particularly along the Odessa North line in that region.”

Sending electric generation from less efficient units to serve that region’s growing electric demand through available transmission circuits is resulting in additional costs for electric users, Dan Jones, ERCOT’s independent market monitor, said in a statement to the board.

Projects to address those challenges were identified as a need in ERCOT’s 2010 evaluation and are currently being constructed by Oncor Electric Delivery, the spokesperson said. “They have a few projects that will be completed between December of this year and the end of 2014.”

In addition to long-term transmission improvements, supplemental steps are under way to address the congestion issues. Those include temporary changes to the grid during off-peak months, and additional training to increase market participants’ understanding of the role of congestion revenue rights and how to access and use them to hedge against pricing risks.