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Thousands in Bay Area, NorCal lose power in rolling blackout order issued by mistake

Alameda officials say they were told to shut power to 1,000 customers Tuesday night
Alameda officials say they were told to shut power to 1,000 customers Tuesday night 01:13

ALAMEDA -- Thousands of homes in Alameda, Healdsburg, Palo Alto and other Northern California cities lost power Tuesday evening following miscommunication about rolling blackouts.

The cities' power is provided by the Northern California Power Agency - a consortium of local power agencies separate from Pacific Gas and Electric -  which reportedly received an order from the California Independent Systems Operator (CAISO) to begin the blackouts following an Emergency Energy Alert 3 Tuesday evening. The alert warns that rolling outages are imminent or in process and is initiated when CAISO determines load shedding is necessary. 

However, CAISO issued a statement that there were no rolling blackouts ordered, crediting power customers' conservation efforts as the state's total energy usage load reached record levels.

In a statement Wednesday, Alameda Municipal Power blamed NCPA for the erroneous blackout order.

Yesterday, at about 5:45 p.m., after the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) issued a level 3 power emergency, the Northern California Power Agency (NCPA) instructed Alameda Municipal Power (AMP) to begin load shedding operations. NCPA is AMP's electric load scheduler and is responsible for communicating CAISO directives to many of the public utilities in Northern California, including Alameda Municipal Power. If NCPA instructs us to drop load, AMP must act.

In total, 1400 customers were without power from approximately 6:05 p.m. to 7:05 p.m.

In conjunction with NCPA working with the CAISO, we are working to clarify procedures to ensure unnecessary outages do not occur moving forward. We thank you all for your patience and support as we navigate these dynamic situations that change frequently.

During such blackouts, customers typically lose power for about an hour before the outage rolls over to another load block.

Elliott Mainzer, CEO of CAISO, told KPIX Wednesday that NCPA misunderstood the power operator's order to prepare for possible rotating outages.

"In California at that time, we had not progressed to rotating outages," said Mainzer. "And so I don't know honestly this morning exactly what happened there but we will be in touch and certainly will be doubling down our communication."

Mainzer added, "These are situations that obviously happened very infrequently. And there was a lot happening on the grid for everybody last night. And so we'll double down on the communication to make sure that doesn't happen again."

In a statement, NCPA said CAISO contacted its dispatch center about the emergency alert and a dispatcher understood it to be an order to begin shedding load immediately.

"At 5:53 pm, NCPA's dispatch center was contacted by the CAISO with an order our dispatcher understood as a request to shed 46.02 MW of load to help prevent widespread outages. In turn, our dispatcher immediately undertook the process of meeting our commitment to the state by working with our member systems at the Cities of Alameda, Lodi, Santa Clara (Silicon Valley Power), Palo Alto, Healdsburg, and Ukiah to temporarily turn off power to some customers in those communities. Once the outages had been initiated, our dispatcher contacted the CAISO to inform them that the curtailment action had been undertaken, and was then notified there had been a misunderstanding of the initial order."

Read full statement from NCPA

CAISO said Tuesday's peak electricity demand reached 52,061 megawatts, breaking a record set in 2006.

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