Rock Beats

Round Rock steps up to help prevent blackouts

Bill Carr, John Alligood and Buddy Franklin with the EnerNOC computer programRound Rock’s Water Treatment Plant and Public Works Department recently entered into an agreement that will help prevent blackouts in Texas and bring extra revenue to the City. Watch KXAN story


In the dark


The massive blackout on the east coast in 2003 that left almost 55 million people in the United States and Canada without power raised awareness of the dangers of overextending electric power grids during times of peak demand. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) — which operates the grid that serves 75 percent of the deregulated market in the state — reports that Texans set new records for power consumption in 2010.


With concerns about widespread blackouts, ERCOT has established a program to warn power users of potential blackouts and reward those that agree to reduce their energy use when the power demand has reached dangerous peaks.


With the help of EnerNOC, Round Rock’s water utility has agreed to join the effort.


Precautionary measures


“At first, this program was aimed mainly at big industries,” says Buddy Franklin, utility support superintendent. “But they’ve started recruiting municipalities with big water treatment systems because they use a lot of power.”


EnerNOC representatives approached Ronnie Jean, Utility Operations Manager, about getting Round Rock in the Demand Response program last year. EnerNOC specializes in helping big organizations use energy more efficiently. Under the agreement, EnerNOC provides all the necessary equipment and manages the ERCOT program at no out-of-pocket cost to the City in exchange for a percentage of the funds the City receives for participating.


“We are participating in a program with other major power users to reduce the load on the system at key times to keep the grid from crashing,” says Buddy. “EnerNOC provides us with all the equipment to measure our usage for free and they take care of managing the program.”


It’s estimated that the City will get between $20,000 and $30,000 three times a year for being part of the program. The amount is based on the amount of kilowatts the City agrees to cut when requested.


“Our primary concern was that we do nothing to jeopardize our own water system,” says Buddy. “However, we felt that with our system — which has several water storage tanks to hold water and take advantage of gravity, as well as multiple backup generators that use diesel — we could cut back on our electricity use for pumps and still have water.”


The demands of the program are carefully limited as well. ERCOT can request that the City cut back to its agreed upon usage for only 8 hours at most and only once during a four month period.


“We are confident that we can reduce some of the power demand on the grid for that short period of time,” says Michael Thane, utility director.


If for some reason the City can’t comply with the request, there is no penalty. The City will simply not receive its reimbursement from the program for that period.


“Again, our customers will always come first,” says Buddy. “We’ve developed a plan to make these adjustments without adversely affecting our own operations.”


Realistically, ERCOT has had only two situations in the last 20 years that led to blackouts.


Putting it in practice


“When we first started looking at this program, we developed a plan for reducing our power usage,” says Buddy. “Our team decided what equipment would be used to reduce power demand and/or water production sites to take offline. Normally, we use around 2,000 kilowatts at any given time but it can be as much as 5,000 kilowatts in summer. We found that we could cut our usage to 450 kilowatts for up to 8 hours and still continue to provide water to our residents with no disruption in service. The power reduction is expected to be met in only 10 minutes.”


In addition to EnerNOC’s equipment, John Alligood, utility system integrator, designed a computer program that automatically makes the necessary adjustments to the system with just the click of a mouse.


“The program is great,” says Buddy. “It makes it easy for our operators to meet the power usage reduction when needed in the short timeframe.”


With the EnerNOC equipment, the water plant also gets some useful technology that provides helpful data on its energy use at no cost.


“EnerNOC has a pretty neat program and it’s an awesome deal for us,” says Buddy. “The concept is really good. It helps out the whole community by preventing blackouts and it generates revenue for us. It’s ultimately a precautionary measure and a good program that we are glad to support.”