By Jill Capotosto

Finally, a brief respite from the heat!  Today we finally welcome temperatures that ring in below 100 for the first time in five days—the high for today is a merciful 99.  It may not be for us as Texans, but others would consider that pretty hot.  These high temperatures that come with our scorching Texas summers strain the state’s primary power grid, not to mention our wallets. 

This Tuesday, electricity demand was the highest it had been all month in many cities such as Dallas, where the high was 106.  This caused wholesale power prices to rise up to $3,000 per megawatt-hour Tuesday afternoon, a 500% increase over typical trading prices from $20 to $60, according to an article from Dallas News.  When electricity demands are at this level, there is a high risk for rolling blackouts.  The last case of such blackouts was February of last year, when heating demands rather than cooling were the culprit.  According to officials at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) quoted in a KVUE article, we are already seeing record electric demand for June.

Fortunately, these energy and monetary strains can be lessened if we all take simple steps to conserve electricity.  The most important time to conserve is between 3 and 7 p.m. with actions like raising the thermostat settings on air conditioners by one or two degrees, closing blinds, turning down electric water heaters by 10 degrees, and waiting until after 7 p.m. to run dishwashers, do laundry, or use the stove.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) released an app for Apple and Android users that lets users know of times when energy demand is high and conservation is critical to avoid blackouts; it also has a conservation tips page.  Environment Texas has a helpful “plug in to clean energy” guide that provides information on more permanent conservation tips for homes, focusing on easy ways to increase energy efficiency.

The Texas Public Utility Commission announced this week their “The Power to Save Texas” media campaign, which reaches out to business groups, community organizations and middle schools.  Unfortunately, however, the PUC flubbed an opportunity to promote greater power savings by voting on Wednesday to allow wholesale energy prices to hit new highs of $4,500 per mega-watt hour (a 50% increase!) during times of peak demand, according to an article in the Texas Observer.  This decision will encourage investors to build more power generation plants rather than promoting energy savings through energy efficiency, which consistently save money in the long run.  It will also likely result in higher energy bills for consumers.

Fortunately, it is easy to take energy efficiency and conservation into your own hands any time.  Tips can easily be found on a number of different websites.  Some of the simplest tips include turning off unused lights, air-drying clothes and dishes (it certainly feels enough like a dryer outside to me), keeping refrigerator and freezer doors open as little as possible, and unplugging chargers and electronics that are not in use.  All of these little steps will make a huge impact with 25.6 million Texans working together.

Jill Capotosto is a rising junior at Elon University in North Carolina where she is double majoring in Environmental Studies and Strategic Communications.  She grew up in Austin where she spent lots of time outside hiking and kayaking with her dad, mom, brother and sister. She is interning with Environment Texas' Fight Global Warming campaign this summer.