ERCOT Says Texas Power Demand to Double by 2030, With Bitcoin to Blame

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During a public hearing before the Texas Senate Committee on Business and Commerce June 12, the Public Utility Commission (PUC) and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) reported that Texas’ power demand is now expected to nearly double by 2030.

Current demand hovers around 85 gigawatts, but it is projected to increase to 150 GW in the next half of the decade.

Who’s gobbling all these gigawatts? Bitcoin, it turns out. More than 50% of that new demand is expected to come from the increasing number of crypto mining operations and data centers in the Permian Basin. Crypto mining is the process by which transactions are entered on the blockchain, and it also puts new bitcoins into circulation.

Currently, almost all of the industrial electricity demand in the Permian comes from oil and gas (and that demand is expected to expand as those industries do too), but in recent years crypto mining has been steadily moving in. Oil and gas is increasingly electrifying its equipment, meaning bitcoin miners will have competition for an already scarce resource, amid increasingly hot summers. Frackers in West Texas are using nearly four Seattles’ worth of electricity a day, the Wall Street Journal reported in January.

Texas energy is not the only thing crypto mining operations consume at an outsized rate. Last fall, it came to light that in August 2023 ERCOT had paid bitcoin miner Riot nearly $32 million to conserve power during times of peak strain on the grid. During the 2021 winter storm, the Bitdeer mining facility near Riot – which, combined with Riot, uses the same amount of energy as the neighboring 300,000 homes – received $18 million from the state. This practice is understandably infuriating to the average utility customer, who has been paying much higher bills while being asked over and over to turn down the A/C amid triple-digit summer heat.

Last week, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick took to Twitter to say that ERCOT’s testimony was “shocking,” and that “we need to take a close look” at crypto miners and data centers, saying the industries “produce very few jobs compared to the incredible demands they place on our grid. I’m more interested in building the grid to service customers in their homes, apartments, and normal businesses and keeping costs as low as possible for them instead of for very niche industries that have massive power demands and produce few jobs.”

Aside from the industries expanding in the state, Texas’ population is projected to reach 50 million people by 2050. In response to this incredible demand, the Senate implemented an incentive grant program for building new dispatchable generation facilities before 2029 last session. In a statement May 31, Patrick reported that 81 gas companies had applied for low-interest loans from the state to build new dispatchable power plants, which will add 41 more gigawatts to the grid.

In addition to building more power sources, the coming spike in demand has caused grid operators and legislators to warm to certain policies that more progressive entities have been advocating for all along. Groups like Sierra Club have advocated that Texas focus more on demand-side strategies – getting Texans to use less energy more efficiently, with better-insulated homes and smart thermostats – before building new energy sources, for the last few legislative sessions.

Those strategies would lower both the consumer’s utility bill and stress on the grid – and ideally, they would include paying the average customer to conserve during short periods of strain on the grid, the same perk crypto miners currently enjoy. Sierra Club recently filed comments with the PUC advocating an increase in the statewide goal for energy efficiency, and ERCOT surprisingly responded in the affirmative: “ERCOT believes that a renewed focus on demand-side measures will be necessary to ensure a reliable grid in the future … potentially including energy efficiency programs.”

Editor’ Note Thursday, June 20, 10:45am: This story previously stated the Bitdeer mining facility near Riot received $18 billion from the state; it was $18 million The Chronicle regrets the error.