By\u00a0Erin Douglas\u00a0and\u00a0Mitchell Ferman\r\nElectricity outages in Texas could occur again this summer \u2014 just a few months after the devastating winter storm that left millions of Texans without power for days \u2014 if the state experiences a severe heatwave or drought combined with high demand for power, according to recent assessments by the state\u2019s grid operator.\r\nExperts and company executives are warning that the power grid that covers most of the state is at risk of another crisis this summer when demand for electricity typically peaks as homes and businesses crank up air conditioning to ride out the Texas heat. Texas is likely to see a hotter and drier summer than normal this year, according to an April climate outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and 2021 is very likely to rank among the 10 warmest years on record globally.\r\n\u201cThis summer, I am as worried right now [about the grid] as I was coming into this winter,\u201d said Curt Morgan, CEO of Vistra Corp., an Irving-based power company. \u201cSounds like I\u2019m the boy that cries wolf, but I\u2019m not. I\u2019ve seen this stuff repeat itself. We can have the same event happen if we don\u2019t fix this.\u201d\r\nAs state lawmakers continue debating how to improve the grid after February\u2019s storm nearly caused its collapse, on Tuesday Texans were asked to conserve electricity because the supply of power could\u00a0barely keep up with demand. A significant chunk of the grid\u2019s power plants were offline due to maintenance this week, some a result of damage from the winter storm.\r\nThe warning triggered a torrent of outrage from residents and political leaders across the state who questioned why the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the grid, allowed it to come so close to emergency conditions on a relatively mild spring day. \u201cI appreciate the increased effort toward transparency, but wow this is nervewracking to see in April,\u201d state Rep.\u00a0Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood,\u00a0tweeted\u00a0Tuesday.\r\nHeading into the summer, ERCOT included three extreme scenarios in a preliminary assessment of the state\u2019s power resources for the summer \u2014 the most extreme calculations ERCOT has ever considered for the seasonal assessment. Each scenario would leave the grid short a significant amount of power, which would trigger outages to residents:\r\n\r\n\tIn the first scenario, a drought similar to what the state saw in 2011, combined with low winds, several natural gas plants offline, and an increase in economic activity as the pandemic eases, would leave the power grid short 3,600 megawatts, or enough to power 720,000 homes.\r\n\r\n\r\n\tAdd low solar power generation to the first projection (say it\u2019s a cloudy day), and the grid would be short 7,500 megawatts, or enough to power 1.5 million homes.\r\n\r\n\r\n\tIn the most extreme scenario, ERCOT considered, a severe heatwave across the entire state combined with outages for every major power source would leave the grid short 14,000 megawatts, or enough to power 2.8 million homes.\r\n\r\nPower grids must keep supply and demand in balance at all times. When Texas\u2019 grid falls below its safety margin of\u00a02,300 megawatts\u00a0in excess supply, the grid operator\u00a0starts taking additional precautions, like what happened on Tuesday, to avoid blackouts.\r\nPete Warnken, ERCOT\u2019s manager of resource adequacy, told reporters near the end of March that the grid operator included the extreme scenarios to \u201cbroaden the debate on how to make the grid more resilient.\u201d Still, he said ERCOT expects sufficient power reserves, \u201cassuming normal conditions\u201d this summer.\r\nWhile the extreme scenarios have a very low chance of actually occurring, an unlikely and severe event happened in February, when extreme cold knocked out several different sources of power at once just as the cold triggered surging demand for power and natural gas fuel shortages. More than 4.8 million customers lost power and at\u00a0least 111 people died during the storm.\r\nA final summer assessment will be published May 6.\r\n\u201cA catastrophic event like the winter storm could not be predicted several months in advance,\u201d Warnken said, adding that the preliminary report isn\u2019t intended to forecast unprecedented events.\r\nRather, Warnken said the scenarios should help inform state leaders and the public of what\u2019s possible \u2014 \u201cthe idea is the planners and stakeholders are aware that there\u2019s a possibility something like that could happen,\u201d he said. \u201cThese have a much lower probability of occurring than the traditional grid scenarios.\u201d\r\nHot, dry summer\u00a0\r\nJohn Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas State Climatologist and director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies, said that this summer in Texas is shaping up to be hot and dry. While it\u2019s still early, he said temperatures this summer will depend on how much rain the state gets between now and June. Parts of the state \u2014 South Texas to far West Texas \u2014 have been in drought conditions for more than a year, he said.\r\n\u201cTemperatures during the summer depend a lot on how much rain there has been over the preceding several months,\u201d he said. \u201cIt\u2019s been fairly dry this past fall and winter and spring so far.\u201d\r\nWhen heat waves hit large swaths of the state, that puts stress on the grid.\r\n\u201cIn 2011, for example, most of the summer was a heatwave,\u201d Nielsen-Gammon said. That was the driest year on record in Texas, and what ERCOT based its extreme scenarios on this year. That summer, ERCOT took emergency precautions, but widespread outages did not occur.\r\n\u201cWe were in an extreme drought with little moisture available [in 2011],\u201d Nielsen-Gammon said. \u201cUsually, if you have a heatwave, it\u2019s going to affect at least half the state if not most of it.\u201d\r\nERCOT is \u201ccarefully looking at\u201d the potential for big heatwaves and drought this year, Warnken said.\r\n.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n.\r\nClimate change has\u00a0made summer droughts hotter and longer\u00a0than they used to be in the southwest, according to a\u00a02019 study authored by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists. The study found that droughts occurring in today\u2019s warmer climate cause hotter temperatures than the same drought decades ago \u2014 the low soil moisture combined with higher temperatures produce stronger heatwaves.\r\nA large area of Texas will likely have above average temperatures this summer, according to an\u00a0April 15 NOAA analysis.\r\nDaniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University, is concerned about the power grid\u2019s performance this summer.\r\n\u201cIf ERCOT is struggling to keep the lights on this week, that doesn\u2019t bode well for summer,\u201d Cohan said. \u201cCertainly with climate change, it\u2019s possible we\u2019ll hit new records for heatwaves.\u201d\r\nAnd despite state lawmakers\u2019 advances on legislation aimed to address February\u2019s outages, Cohan said there is little the Legislature can do to better prepare the state\u2019s energy infrastructure for this summer. \u201cIt\u2019s too late to do a whole lot for this summer,\u201d he said.\r\nTexas\u2019 susceptibility to blackouts has long been a concern for the North American Electric Reliability Corp., which has some authority to regulate power plants and oversee grid operators in the U.S.\r\n\u201cFrom my perspective, [Texas] doesn\u2019t have as much cushion as even ERCOT\u2019s math says that they should,\u201d said James Robb, its CEO, and president.\r\nStill,\u00a0Michelle Michot Foss, a fellow in energy at Rice University\u2019s Baker Institute, said Texas\u2019 grid is better prepared for summer heat than extreme cold, and it\u2019s not unusual for the grid to creep close to its capacity in the hottest months.\r\n\u201cWe deal with [heat] more often,\u201d she said. During the summer, she said, \u201cthe energy systems are better prepared.\u201d\r\nThis story originally published by the Texas Tribune.