California Avoids Blackouts, Braces for Another Day of Heat

California narrowly averted another round of rotating blackouts Saturday after officials made desperate pleas to conserve power as reserves fell below critical levels during a record-breaking heat wave.

The state’s grid operator gave the all-clear signal shortly before 9 p.m. local time as temperatures fell after sundown. Earlier in the evening, officials declared a stage-two grid emergency -- one step away from a blackout order -- after wildfires caused a generator and a solar farm to trip offline. It also warned of the potential for rotating power outages throughout the state between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Sunday.

The state’s grid is being pushed to the brink as climate change makes California weather increasingly volatile and the region suffers through yet another heat wave and rash of wildfires. Temperatures topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) Saturday across the state. Sunday is expected to be ever hotter, raising the specter of more blackouts just three weeks after millions of people were plunged into darkness in the first rolling outages since the 2001 energy crisis.

“This heat is even going to outdo what we saw in August,” said Jim Rouiller, lead meteorologists at the Energy Weather Group. “More than 100 high-temperature records are at stake across the West.”

Napa reached a daily record of 102 degrees on Saturday. Gilroy hit 106, an all-time high for this date. And Burbank tied a daily record of 114.

The California Independent System Operator, which runs most of the state’s grid, issued a statewide grid alert for Sunday from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m., warning that it might not have sufficient power reserves. The grid operator expected Sunday demand to top 49 gigawatts, above the peak of 46.8 gigawatts hit on Aug. 14 when the ISO called for rotating outages.

“If that forecast is realized, Sunday would be the highest-load day we’ve seen so far this summer,” said BloombergNEF analyst Brian Bartholomew.

Electricity prices for delivery Saturday evening into Southern California jumped to $800 a megawatt-hour, according to data from the grid operator. That’s an indication of tightening supplies as solar production tapers off.

California Avoids Blackouts, Braces for Another Day of Heat

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday signed an emergency order freeing up extra electricity supplies.

Cooling degree days -- used to estimate energy demand -- over this weekend are forecast to reach record highs, according to BloombergNEF analyst Jade Patterson. If that happens, electricity consumption could breach last month’s heat wave that sent natural gas prices to $13.27 per million British thermal units.

California Avoids Blackouts, Braces for Another Day of Heat

Many heat records for the date could fall across California, Arizona and Nevada through the weekend before the worst of it begins to subside Tuesday and Wednesday, said Rich Otto, a forecaster with the U.S. Weather Prediction Center.

A front from Canada bringing cooler air will dive into the western U.S. breaking the worst of the heat but bringing wind with it that can raise the risk of wildfires, Otto said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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