Bluebonnet general manager Matt Bentke (far right) answers questions during a state of the community event in March 2019.

As winter-weather conditions continue to worsen across Washington County, officials with Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative say the electric load reduction requirements placed on them by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) are putting "an extreme burden" on co-op members.

Stemming from severe winter weather -- which has included snow, ice and freezing temperatures -- and a subsequent reduction in generation capacity, Bluebonnet and other electric providers have been ordered by ERCOT to continuously reduce a large percentage of their systems' energy demand. This has caused continuous periods of rotating outages since early Monday morning.

"The load-reduction requirements ERCOT is placing on Bluebonnet is putting an extreme burden on our members," Bluebonnet general manager Matt Bentke said in a statement released by the provider. "We strive every day to provide reliable power to our members. Turning their power off is the last thing we ever wanted to do. But we must comply with ERCOT's orders."

According to a release, Bluebonnet has been ordered to reduce its system's electric demand by up to one-third, and has been consistently more than 100 megawatts during most of the period beginning Monday. One megawatt provides enough electricity for about 200 homes in Texas during cold winter mornings.

Bentke also said Bluebonnet will continue adhering to ERCOT's order to reduce demand, as failure to comply would place the entire electric grid "in jeopardy of prolonged statewide failure."

Any noncompliance would also leave Bluebonnet subject to market-rule violations that could lead to "substantial sanctions and fines from the Public Utility Commission of Texas."

Based on the weather forecast and information from ERCOT, Bentke stressed the need for Bluebonnet members to be prepared to potentially endure rotating power outages for another few days.

"The extremely cold weather and its impact on the ERCOT power region in Texas will last until the end of the week," Bentke said. "We need to be prepared for continued rotating power outages, and take the necessary steps to stay safe and keep an eye on the safety of others during these conditions and circumstances. ERCOT has given us no indication of generation capacity increasing to meet demand until the temperatures increase."

According to the release, this is the fourth time in ERCOT's history that it had to resort to rotating outages to ensure integrity of the state's electric grid. During the last mandatory rotating outage event in February 2011, Bluebonnet members generally experienced outages lasting 15 to 20 minutes, with about an hour or more before rotating back into the outage. The February 2011 event only lasted a few hours.

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