Geek Tourism for Electric Power Economists

Michael Giberson

Last week I attended the Gulf Coast Power Association‘s spring conference. Very good time. More comments later this week after I have time to catch up. Just a note today on the pre-conference power plant tour featuring the Tenaska Frontier Generating Plant in Shiro, Texas (about 50 north of Houston).

The 830-MW combined-cycle natural gas-fired plant is very efficient (a heat rate in the 7,000s), but what makes the plant most interesting from a economic standpoint is its ability to sell power into the ERCOT market and the Eastern Interconnection simultaneously.  As an article in Power Engineering explains:

The idea for a plant that could be dispatched to either the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) grid or the Eastern interconnection came to Tenaska Vice President Dave Fiorelli while attending an ERCOT operations subcommittee meeting in 1996. At the meeting, one of the subcommittee members mentioned that a part of CSW’s black start plan for ERCOT involved temporarily connecting a West Texas Utilities’ plant, normally connected to the Southwest Power Pool, to ERCOT . It occurred to Fiorelli that if it is possible to do it on an emergency basis, why couldn’t it be done routinely. To put it another way: Would it be possible to design and build a plant to feed into more than one grid, perhaps even simultaneously? The advantage for a merchant plant could be substantial by providing an independent power facility greater flexibility in reaching the most lucrative markets. (Emphasis added.)

The ERCOT power grid is electrically isolated from the Eastern Interconnection (a collection of interconnected transmission grids covering most of the U.S. and Canadian power systems west of the Rocky Mountains). A small number of DC interties does allow some power to flow between ERCOT and the Eastern Interconnection, but not much power flows relatively speaking. Those limits mean that a generator like Tenaska Frontier can explore arbitrage opportunities between the regions without a lot of competition from others.

And that condition makes the Tenaska Frontier plant an excellent geek travel stop for electric power economists.


3 thoughts on “Geek Tourism for Electric Power Economists

  1. What good, geeky fun! Wish I had been there. Heat rates and arbitrage and Texas? What’s not to love?

  2. Thanks for the tip Michael. Seems to me that geek tourism could be the 21st C equivalent of ecotourism. I recently took geeky pleasure in presenting an offshore turbine that I visited, onshore strangely enough, near Hamburg: see http://blogs.spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/2009/03/11/5_gigawattsapop_and_prepped_fo.html.

    Here’s a story about another Texas border power project that, alas, I have not had the good fortune to visit. It transfers power between ERCOT and Mexico without resorting to power electronics: see http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/nov07/5714.

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