A relentless heat wave is sending energy consumption skyrocketing in California, which could prompt rotating blackouts if the state falls short of its power supply.
California Independent System Operators (CAISO), which operates the state’s power grid, said power outages were a strong possibility Tuesday and Wednesday, as the state’s electrical load could exceed the highest demand the state has ever seen.
In order to avoid power outages, CAISO launched a Flex Alert to call on Californians to voluntarily save energy. But if that and other measures taken by the energy operator to deal with surge failure, the last resort would be to call local utilities to dump their load, which means shutting off power to customers.
San Diego Gas & Electric has a system in place for this possibility. Here’s what you need to know.
What will happen if power outages begin in San Diego County?
First, SDG&E will notify customers that rotating outages are imminent by issuing alerts via media, social media and phone calls.
Then SDG&E will use a predetermined list to remove power from the necessary number of San Diego customers, small pieces at a time and starting at the top, until the rotating blackouts are no longer needed.
“So the California ISO can call us and ask that a certain amount of load be removed and we’ll go through that list of circuits and we’ll basically open a switch and drop those customers for up to an hour,” Chief of SDG&E said security guard Kevin Geraghty. If the network hasn’t recovered by the end of that hour, “we might have to move to another hour, but that would be a different set of clients.”
The utility reassures that outages will not last longer than an hour for an individual customer.
How to Determine My Order in SDG&E Rotating Blackouts
To determine if or when you will be affected by rotating faults, you will first need to determine your circuit number. To find your circuit number, check your SDG&E invoice or log in to your account on the SDG&E website. Circuit numbers are listed in the invoice section under “detail of current charges”.
Then find your circuit number on this circuit list.
If rolling outages begin, SDG&E will start at the top of that list and move down, in order, until power outages are no longer needed, Geraghty said. It is likely that about six circuit lines will be affected at a time until an hour before the utility moves to the next half-dozen communities.
Thousands of other SDG&E customers were without power over the Labor Day holiday amid scorching temperatures. NBC 7’s Audra Stafford shares more on the Extended Flex Alert.
How was the order of the list created?
The list was required after the Western Energy Crisis in the 2000s and is filed with the state utility commission.
The same list has been used ever since, but whenever there are rolling outages, the affected customers are moved down the list.
The last time there were rolling blackouts was in August 2020, so affected communities won’t see their power cut this time around – unless, improbably, SDG&E goes through the whole list.
Some customers are exempt from the list, such as hospitals, emergency operators, police stations, fire stations, cold zones and other essential services, Geraghty said.
What can I do to avoid outages?
A Flex Alert was again issued Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. to urge customers to voluntarily save energy to avoid power outages. Use the following storage tips:
- Turn off unnecessary lights.
- Use of major household appliances before 3 p.m. and after 10 p.m.
- Setting air conditioner thermostats to 78 degrees or higher.
- Use fans and keep the curtains drawn.
“I think we can get through this event, but what we really need from everyone is to be satisfied between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m.,” Geraghty said. “If you have batteries, electric walls, okay, we want you to charge them, of course, but do it after 10 a.m. Charge your car after 10 a.m. Turn off your pool pump until 10 a.m. hours.And of course the simplest and easiest is really [to] raise your thermostat a few degrees.”
Geraghty also advised people to pre-cool their homes by closing their blinds to block out the sun, especially in the late afternoon.
When did spinning interrupts last occur?
Several hundred thousand Californians lost power during hot weather August 2020 blackouts. The state avoided a similar scenario last summer. Previously, the state had ordered blackouts during an energy crisis in 2001. Blackouts occurred several times from January to May, including one that affected more than 1.5 million customers in March . The cause was a combination of energy shortages and market manipulation by energy wholesalers, including the infamous Enron Corp., who drove up prices by withholding supplies.