California Facing the Worst Power Grid Emergency in 14 Years
Homes stand during a blackout in Sausalito, California, U.S. (Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

California Facing the Worst Power Grid Emergency in 14 Years


California’s grid operator is warning of possible rolling blackouts and calling on the state’s utilities to start cutting power to some customers.

On late Friday, the California Independent System Operator declared a Stage 2 emergency for the first time since 2006, asking utilities across the state to curtail service to customers that had already agreed to disruptions when demand is high in return for incentive payments. The declaration means the grid manager is no longer able to meet demand without market intervention and shuttered power plants may be ordered back online.

California is taking these measures in the hopes of avoiding rolling blackouts as temperatures soar above 100 degrees in some parts of the state and people blast their air conditioners to keep cool. The heat is hitting at an especially vulnerable time for the region with the pandemic forcing people to remain at home. Temperatures were forecast to reach 112 degrees Fahrenheit (44 Celsius) Friday in the San Joaquin Valley. Los Angeles could hit 96.

If all other efforts fail to address the surge in electricity demand, the California ISO will have to impose “rotating power outages” under a Stage 3 emergency to avoid power failures, the grid operator said in a statement Friday. It would be the first time since the 2001 western U.S. energy crisis that such an emergency was called. As of 6 p.m. local time, the ISO’s website showed a forecast peak in demand of roughly 47 gigawatts and 52 gigawatts in available capacity.

California is joining regions around the world that have been grappling with increasingly wild weather brought on by climate change. What was forecast as one of the worst heat waves in more than a century gripped parts of Europe this month. The eastern U.S. is just emerging from July temperatures that were expected to topple daily records in Manhattan and Boston dating to the 19th century.

The prospect of rolling outages in California comes less than a year after utilities in the region deliberately cut off power to millions of customers in an effort to prevent their power lines from igniting wildfires during unusually strong winds and extremely dry weather.

Also See: Texas Power Demand Nears All-Time High Amid Searing Heat

A “sweltering and long duration heat wave” is forecast to develop across the U.S. West this weekend through much of next week, according to the National Weather Service. The weather agency posted excessive heat warnings for much of California for Friday through Wednesday.

Further complicating matters, cloud cover from the remnants of tropical storm Elida is expected to crimp output from the state’s solar generators, leading to tighter supplies, the grid operator said in a statement Friday.

Electricity prices have already hit two-year highs as weather forecasters called for excessive heat. Natural gas prices in Southern California have more than doubled on the increased need for the fuel for power production, according to report from BloombergNEF.

California Governor Gavin Newsom’s office urged residents in a tweet to conserve energy and set thermostats to 78 degrees or higher.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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