Bitcoin mining, AI data centers increasing demand on Texas power grid, leaders say

With the hot summer months on the horizon, there is a renewed focus on the state of the Texas power grid.

Texas Public Utility Commission Chair Thomas Gleeson and Pablo Vegas, the CEO of ERCOT, testified before the Texas Senate Business and Commerce Committee on Wednesday.

"I think it's incumbent on the [Public Utility Commission] to look at existing ways that we could address our reliability concerns and see if we can accomplish our goals using those tools first," said Gleeson.

Vegas says explosive growth in the State of Texas will continue to put pressure on the power grid.

He told the committee that within the next six years the grid's needs will grow from about 85,000 megawatts to 150,000 megawatts.

"That's effectively doubling peak demand on the ERCOT grid in about 6 years," Vegas said.

A big concern is the impact of Bitcoin mining and artificial intelligence data centers with power-hungry computers being built in Texas.

"We're talking a magnitude of 10 to 30 times of energy use for an AI data center versus a traditional one, so the impact is really significant," said Vegas.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick took to social media after the hearing to raise concerns about both the bitcoin mining and AI industries.

"They produce very few jobs compared to the incredible demands they place on our grid. Crypto mining may actually make more money selling electricity back to the grid than from their crypto mining operations," Patrick said.

According to Vegas' testimony, crypto miners and data centers will be responsible for more than half of the added growth on the Texas grid.

"Texans will ultimately pay the price," Patrick continued. "We want data centers, but it can’t be the Wild Wild West of data centers and crypto miners crashing our grid and turning the lights off."

Joshua Rhodes, a research scientist at UT Austin, says consumers should feel confident in the reliability of the power grid as we encounter triple-digit days this summer.

"We've seen a lot of numbers come out lately and showing much higher levels of growth than we've seen in the past," Rhodes said. "I think we have a lot of new generation on the market. We've built a lot of wind, we built a lot of solar, but also a lot of energy storage that allows us to move some of that, some of that energy around."

Plus, more electrical providers are offering financial incentives for Texans to install smart thermostats, allowing those same providers to adjust your thermostats remotely on high-demand days.

"I have one of these installed in my house and the utility called on it, I think about 15 times, last summer, but I was only home for 1 or 2 of them," said Rhodes.

Rhodes added that you can always override any adjustment the electrical provider makes if it is getting too hot in your house.

The PUC chair told the committee he hopes pricey power rates will start to stabilize in the near future.