Temperatures are expected to reach triple digits for four straight days, this week. That means a lot of us will use our air conditioners and fans more than usual, increasing the demand for electricity. NV Energy plans for the higher temperatures, long before they arrive.
“We prepare, all year long, really, for this summer,” Brian Lawson, Director at NV Energy said. “That’s true both in northern Nevada and southern Nevada.”
The Frank A. Tracy Generating Station is just east of Sparks. During heat waves, it uses all eight of its generating units, providing half of northern Nevada’s electricity. Two more generating units are at the Fort Churchill Generating Station. During these periods, the two combine to produce about 1,000 megawatts of electricity per day, when demand is about twice the average.
“This whole entire site will be running full bore, today, to meet our customers’ needs,” Lawson said.
The power plant uses a combined-cycle system. That means it has two sources of electricity from one process.
“It consists of a jet engine, which is used to make electricity in terms of generator, and the exhaust from that is very hot,” Lawson said. “It’s actually used to make steam that’s pushed through a steam turbine to make more electricity.”
Those generators operate around the clock, for almost the entire year. Lawson says the natural gas-fueled system is the cheapest way to produce electricity, and the combined cycle units are some of the cleanest and most efficient in the United States.
“It runs all year long. It takes about a two-week outage to do routine maintenance,” Lawson said.
Forty-seven operators and technicians work at the Tracy Generating Station. Crews do the maintenance during the cooler months when demand is lower.
“It requires a staff to work really year-round to prepare for heat waves like we’re going through right now,” Lawson said.
The power plant is critical for providing electricity in northern Nevada, keeping rates much lower than they would be if the electricity was purchased from Utah, California or Idaho.
“If this facility failed today, for example, to replace the power on the open market could be as much as five times what it costs us to generate from this facility,” Lawson said.
Lawson says that scenario is very unlikely. Rates do not increase during heat waves but energy bills tend to go up because more is needed. NV Energy expects to provide enough supply to meet the extra demand.
“The transmission and distribution systems are set up to operate at these elevated temperatures for extended periods,” Lawson said. “So, I think the company is in a very good position to meet load during this period.”
NV Energy says the best way to keep your bill from increasing is to set your thermostat at 78 degrees when you are home, and 85 degrees when you are away from home and at night.