California power outages possible as heat wave strains power grid


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Struggling to avoid power outages on Labor Day night, managers of California’s beleaguered power grid declared an energy emergency alert on Monday and warned that Californians may have to double or triple their energy-saving efforts. energy to keep the lights from going out.

The Independent System Operator, which runs the power grid, declared a Level 2 emergency alert from 6.30pm on Monday, a sign that supply was becoming increasingly tight as temperatures soared to 110 degrees and the -of the.

Stage 2 means that the organization “predicts an energy deficiency” and asks the utilities to take action to reduce the strain on the grid. This could include calling in backup generators that normally sit idle due to air pollution regulations.

Power outages – the first in two years – would likely occur if the crisis progresses to the point that ISO has to declare a phase 3 alert.

To complicate matters, the ISO also declared a “transmission emergency” for Northern California, saying it needed to “relieve overloads in the Palermo area” of Butte County. It wasn’t immediately clear how complicated this would complicate ISO’s efforts to keep the lights on.

“We have now entered the most intense phase of this heatwave,” said Elliot Mainzer, ISO President and CEO, earlier today. “The potential for spinning interrupts has increased dramatically.”

Mainzer said the grid is looking at “power deficits of 2,000 to 4,000 megawatts, or up to 10% of normal electricity demand.” This could put up to 3 million households offline.

The Flex Alert — a call for voluntary conservation for a sixth consecutive evening — was in effect from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., an hour longer than usual, highlighting the increasingly risky conditions on the network as temperatures in parts of inland California were expected to soar to 110 degrees or more.

Mainzer said Californians rallied during the heat wave, cutting consumption by nearly 1,000 megawatts on Saturday and Sunday nights — enough electricity for more than 750,000 homes.

But to get through Labor Day unscathed, he said those conservation efforts would have to double or triple.

Around noon, electricity consumption was expected to peak Monday evening at 48,961 megawatts. But at 6 p.m., it had already exceeded that prediction by a few megawatts.

Tuesday was shaping up to be much worse: peak demand of 51,144 megawatts, breaking a 16-year-old record for power consumption in California.

“We’re on very thin margins,” said Siva Gunda, vice chairman of the California Energy Commission.

The state scrambled to keep the lights on. A small fleet of new gas-powered generators in Roseville and Yuba City, licensed by the state last year and operated by the Department of Water Resources, were turned on for the first time. They produced enough electricity for about 120,000 homes.

Additionally, Governor Gavin Newsom’s Emergency Order last week allows industrial companies and others to turn on emergency generators that would otherwise be prohibited by air pollution regulations, Gunda said. “A lot of our participants can turn on their (generators) and unload the grid,” he said.

Some customers with so-called interruptible tariffs – which offer discounts but make them vulnerable to restrictions on energy availability as supplies dwindle – could be taken offline.

Meanwhile, Newsom staff were calling large commercial and industrial businesses, asking them to reduce usage to avoid power outages, Newsom spokeswoman Erin Mellon said.

“Inelegantly called ‘numbering for megawatts,'” she said.

Help could also come from utilities such as SMUD, the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, which is not part of the ISO grid network and would not necessarily have outages if they occurred. Mainzer said various utilities outside the ISO system typically share power with each other during times of crisis.

“There’s an expectation among utilities,” Mainzer said. “They’ve worked together for years.”

SMUD had its hands full with near-record horsepower demands on Monday. The ability to share power with the national ISO system “will have to be a play-and-play decision,” SMUD spokeswoman Lindsay VanLaningham said. “If we have more, we will.”

Like the state, SMUD was asking Sacramento residents to turn up their thermostats to 78 degrees Monday night to save energy. VanLaningham said it appeared Monday night that SMUD would avoid its own blackouts.

Mark Rothleder, COO of ISO, said Californians have done an admirable job so far of responding to flex alerts; the number of megawatts saved actually increased as the heat wave continued. Another saving grace was the relatively mild weather in the Pacific Northwest, allowing that region to export more electricity to California.

But the network has suffered considerable setbacks. Rothleder said three gas-fired power plants collapsed and were still struggling to regain full power, wiping out about 1,000 megawatts in total. Drought has severely reduced hydroelectric supply throughout the summer. A total of 7,735 megawatts of electricity were out of service Monday morning, according to ISO data.

The biggest crisis on the power grid is expected on Tuesday, when temperatures in the Sacramento Valley could reach 115 degrees and power demand could set the all-time system record. “Our goal is to make sure we don’t hit that number,” Mainzer said.

The current record: 50,270 megawatts consumed on July 24, 2006. The state avoided blackouts that day, but California’s energy portfolio has changed significantly over the past 15 years, creating new areas of vulnerability.

In particular, California’s growing reliance on solar power and other renewable sources has made the grid vulnerable to outages in the early evening, when the solar panels go out but the weather remains warm. The state experienced two consecutive nights of power outages in August 2020 and nearly had a repeat during the July 2021 heat wave.

Since then, the state has been able to contribute more than 8,000 megawatts of capacity, including more than 2,000 megawatts of battery storage – a system to gather excess power generated by rooftop solar panels and d other sources – said Gunda.

“Imagine where we would be if we hadn’t done what we’ve been doing for the past two years,” said Mellon, a spokesperson for Newsom.

During a Flex Alert, Californians are told to cool their homes ahead of time and then crank up thermostats to 78 degrees. They are also asked to postpone the use of heavy appliances.

“We know it’s been a long time,” Mainzer said, “and it’s going to get even harder.”

Temperatures are expected to stay well above 100 degrees in the capital region for most of the week after the National Weather Service extended its excessive heat warning through Thursday evening.

Additionally, air quality officials issued the fourth Spare the Air alert of the year on Monday as the heat is expected to keep ozone levels unhealthy for sensitive groups. Before the heat wave, the region had only experienced one day of alert in 2022.

This story was originally published September 5, 2022 10:14 a.m.

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Dale Kasler covers climate change, the environment, the economy and the convoluted world of California water. He also covers major corporate stories for McClatchy’s Western newspapers. He joined The Bee in 1996 from the Des Moines Register and graduated from Northwestern University.

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