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Texans are cranking the AC, prompting worries about the state's power grid


Texas has been enduring a profound heat wave for the last six weeks. The state has posted triple-digit numbers north to south, east to west. As NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports, forecasts look just as bad or worse, and there is ever-present anxiety about how the state's power grid will hold up.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Some of the workers who suffer most from the heat are the many who toil in outdoor construction. Jose Camarillo and his team are building a large, concrete recreational bridge over a prominent Dallas creek. They start at 6 a.m., but lately, the temperature can be heading into the hundreds by 2.

JOSE CAMARILLO: I mean, those are the toughest hours of the day by a lot. We have a tent, and we set the tent up and take breaks in the shade. You know, we try to get the work, the hard work done in the morning. By the time we're out, we're just doing the easy work.

GOODWYN: Camarillo says taking work breaks every 30 minutes during the last three hours is the key to hanging in there. The heat wave came to Texas much earlier than usual at the beginning of June and arrived plenty rough. Next week's forecast is as bad or even worse, with a dome of heat cooking the ground. Eric Martello is a senior meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.

ERIC MARTELLO: Yeah. You got the high sun angle. You got the strong upper ridge. You got the drought conditions. The pattern is not really evolving or changing much, and it's been a little more stagnant than it usually would be.

GOODWYN: Happily, the senior meteorologist at the National Weather Service believes he has a pretty good view into the future - I mean, unhappily.

MARTELLO: Everybody, just plan on this continuing at least for the next 30 to 60 days. During the peak heating hours, limit your time outdoors.

GOODWYN: Climate change certainly seems to be exerting itself. Austin just experienced the hottest seven days in its history, 110 degrees on Sunday, then settling down to 109 for the next two days, then cooling to a pleasant 108 high on Wednesday. Bragging about how big Texas is is a lot more amusing than talking about how hot it's gotten. Here's Beth Garza, an expert with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, known as ERCOT, which controls the Texas grid.

BETH GARZA: We use lots of electricity here. Compared to the eight states of the New England market, Texas, on its own, is at least double the size. But yes, for the most part, Texas is an island.

GOODWYN: A massive user of power, Texas is, by and large, on its own isolated power grid. The disastrous winter outage last year damaged Governor Greg Abbott's reputation as he initially pointed blame at wind and solar power while the collapse of natural gas production left millions all across the state freezing for days, with hundreds dead. Governor Abbott seems more confident about the power stations coping with the heat. But listening to him in an interview with Austin TV station KVUE, you can hear he's still in reassurance mode.


GREG ABBOTT: We've made it through all of these tough days with plenty of supply. And we believe that going forward with the tools that ERCOT now has, we will be able to make it through the summer.

GOODWYN: The coming eight weeks are certainly going to test Texans. Next week, 105 and higher, here we come again. And no, we're not interested in hearing worse horror stories about Phoenix. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

(SOUNDBITE OF ST. VINCENT SONG, "DILETTANTE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.