3 cities may have unnecessarily cut off electricity to homes

Some northern California towns appear to have instituted power outages = blackout on Tuesday by mistake after a miscommunication with the state power grid operator, the California Independent System Operator, in the middle of the historic heat wave.

At least three Bay Area cities kicked off the rotating blackouts Tuesday night — Alameda, Healdsburg and Palo Alto. Each city is a member of the Northern California Power Agency, or NCPA, a joint nonprofit authority.

Another member, Lodi in San Joaquin County, said his utility company, Lodi Electric, was told to shed power at 6 p.m. Tuesday and then shut off power to 1,372 customers in multiple neighborhoods at 6 p.m. 20 a.m. Power was restored just after 7 a.m. afternoon, after the NCPA told Lodi “we can restore power and we’re on standby,” according to Mary Campbell, public information officer for the city of Lodi.

But at 8:30 p.m., Lodi officials said on the city’s Facebook page that they had learned that “the Lodi load shedding order was in error.”

“The NCPA informed Lodi Electric that there was a communication error between them and Cal ISO which caused the NCPA to issue the order to Lodi and other NCPA members,” the city said.

Lodi resident Larry Whitted was one of thousands of customers affected by the accidental rotating blackouts on Tuesday night. Whitted said he received a text message about ten minutes after the power cut that read, “CAISO has declared a system emergency. Lodi has to offload. One (1) hour of power outage will occur in your area within 30 minutes. Medical emergencies, call 911.

His electricity was out for about 45 minutes, Whitted said. While he had expected a potential outage and felt the outage was “not a problem for us”, Whitted said he was upset by media reports and official statements claiming California is not had experienced no rotating failure on Tuesday evening.

Gavin Newsom tweeted that there were no emergency blackouts, but I know there were because I was in one,” Whitted said.

NCPA members include Lodi, Alameda, Healdsburg, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Biggs, Gridley, Lompoc, Redding, Roseville, Shasta Lake and Ukiah.

California’s ISO said around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday that electricity supplies were low amid unprecedented demand as California’s record-breaking heatwave strained the grid. The independent system operator moved to Stage 3 of emergency operations, which allowed it to order utilities to initiate shutdowns if necessary.

The rolling blackouts in several California municipalities on Tuesday night were not ordered by the network operator and were the result of confusion and misunderstanding, network CEO Elliot Mainzer said in a call Wednesday. to the media.

“These are situations that have obviously happened very rarely, and a lot happened on the grid for everyone last night, so we’ll double down on communication to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” he said. said Mainzer.

Further away voltages on the electrical network are expected on Wednesday, when peak demand is forecast at 51,243 megawatts – not too far off Tuesday’s record high of 52,061 MW. (Exceeding 50,000 MW is extremely rare.) Another Flex Alert asking residents to save electricity was issued from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Alameda said in a Facebook post Tuesday evening that California ISO “declared a Level 3 Alert from 6-8pm tonight which is triggering our deployment outages. We had to close 2 circuits, Marina Village and East End, and outages will last 45-60 minutes.

A second hour of outages on Bay Farm Island has been canceled, the city utility said.

Alameda Municipal Energy published a statement Wednesday morning said the NCPA asked Alameda to unload around 5:45 p.m., resulting in power outages for 1,400 customers from 6:05 p.m. to 7:05 p.m. “If the NCPA orders us to drop the load, AMP must act,” the statement read.

“Together with the NCPA in conjunction with CAISO, we are working to clarify procedures to prevent unnecessary outages from occurring in the future,” the statement said.

The city of Healdsburg said around 6:20 p.m. Tuesday that it was ordered by the California ISO to shut off power for about an hour. About 90 minutes later, the city said the power outages were over due to lower system loads.

Palo Alto Utilities, the city’s municipal utility, said around 6:30 p.m. the power was cut in response to state efforts to reduce electricity demand. The agency said about 1,700 customers in downtown, old Palo Alto and the industrial park were affected by the outage. About half an hour later, the utility said power was restored after California’s ISO cleared it.

Jordan Cowman, a spokesman for Palo Alto Utilities, said Wednesday they were one of several utilities that were contacted and authorized to begin closings. He said he believed the NCPA and California ISO were working together, but did not say who Palo Alto Utilities got the clearance from.

“We (cut off) the amount requested from our utility, and then we got the go-ahead,” Cowman said.

City of Healdsburg and NCPA officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some California residents at many utilities, including Pacific Gas & Electric Co., also experienced unplanned outages during the heatwave as extremely hot temperatures cause electrical equipment such as transformers to fail. These are different from rotating blackouts or pre-planned blackouts to reduce the risk of wildfire.

Jessica Flores (she/her) and Claire Hao are writers for the San Francisco Chronicle. E-mail: jessica.flores@sfchronicle.com, claire.hao@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @jessmflores, @clairehao_

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