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CAISO calls off rolling blackouts after record heat threatened to overwhelm state power grid

Record heat overwhelms California power grid; rolling blackouts set to begin
Record heat overwhelms California power grid; rolling blackouts set to begin 04:21

SAN FRANCISCO -- The record heat wave baking California prompted an alert from the state that rolling blackouts would begin Tuesday evening when demand exceeded supply.

Over half a million PG&E customers braced for blackouts but luckily California narrowly avoided them.

Peak energy demand exceeded 52,000 megawatts, the highest since 2006. CAISO credits people pitching in and conserving energy.

Governor Newsom tweeted, "We can do this. If we keep it up we can get through this unprecedented heatwave," Tuesday night.

Still, thousands lost power. PG&E said the outages were heat-related due to equipment failures.

The California Independent Systems Operator (CAISO) issued an Energy Emergency Alert (EEA) 3 Tuesday, the third of three emergency alert stages which means rotating power outages are "imminent or in progress."  The power grid operator said the alert was in effect as of 5:17 p.m. Tuesday., and that if outages are ordered, customers can expect to receive notifications from power providers on the areas affected and duration of the outage.  

California's power grid peak hit 52,061 megawatts on Tuesday, CAISO said. As of 7:11 p.m., rotating blackouts had not yet begun and the power operator credited conservation efforts by power customers.

Earlier Tuesday, CAISO had already declared an EEA 2 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and indicated emergency energy-saving measures were underway "such as tapping backup generators, buying more power from other states and using so-called demand response programs," according to the agency. If power reserves are exhausted, CAISO then orders the state's utilities like Pacific Gas and Electric to begin rotating outages until the demand meets available supplies.

As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, 50,352 customers were without power in the Bay Area with the most in the South Bay, where 44,662 customers had no power. The East Bay had 3,224 customers without power while the Peninsula and the North Bay each had around 369 customers in the dark. 

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Governor Gavin Newsom's office said the current heat wave is on track to be both the hottest and longest on record in California for September. On Monday, energy conservation efforts saved 1,000 megawatts of power in the state but that an additional 2,000 megawatts of savings was needed Tuesday to meet the higher forecasted demand, the office said.

"Californians have stepped up in a big way during this record heat wave, but with the hottest temperatures here now, the risk of outages is real. We all have to double down on conserving energy to reduce the unprecedented strain on the grid," Newsom said in a statement.

Many state buildings are powering down their lights and air conditioning and the state has installed emergency generators to try to meet the demand, according to the governor's office.

As people crank up their air conditioners, the state forecasted record levels of energy use, said CAISO president Elliot Mainzer. The state has additional energy capacity at the moment "but blackouts, rolling, rotating outages are a possibility," Mainzer said, calling additional conservation "absolutely essential."

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The CAISO site Tuesday morning showed California could fall more than 5,000 megawatts short of its power supply at peak demand, forecasted for 5:30 pm. But by 2 p.m., despite CAISO not asking for rotating outages yet, PG&E gave advanced notice to approximately 525,277 customers to prepare for potential rotating outages that evening.

California's energy grid runs on a mix of mostly solar and natural gas during the day, along with some imports of power from other states. But solar power begins to fall off during the late afternoon and into the evening, which is the hottest time of day in some parts of the state. And some of the aging natural gas plants California relies on for backup power aren't as reliable in hot weather.

CAISO also issued a Flex Alert call for voluntary conservation between 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday, making seven alerts in as many days. Consumers were urged to keep air conditioners at 78 degrees (25.5 degrees C) or higher during the period and avoiding using major appliances such as ovens and dishwashers.

At CAISO's request on Monday, four temporary emergency power generators deployed by the Department of Water Resources in Roseville and Yuba City were activated for the first time since they were installed last year, providing up to 120 megawatts, enough electricity for 120,000 homes.

The efforts have worked to keep the lights on "but we have now entered the most intense phase of this heat wave" that could last into the week, and two to three times the level of conservation will be needed from people and businesses, Mainzer said.

In addition, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) extended a Spare the Air Alert for smog through Wednesday as the heat wave combined with motor vehicle exhaust will produce unhealthy ozone levels.

"Unfortunately, there is more extreme heat and smog on the horizon for the Bay Area this week," said a prepared statement from Sharon Landers, the BAAQMD interim executive officer. "With packed Bay Area roads and record heat, we should all take steps to reduce traffic congestion by choosing transit or working remotely to protect our air and public health."

Several hundred thousand Californians lost power in rolling blackouts in August 2020 amid hot weather, but the state avoided a similar scenario last summer. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation on Friday that could allow the state's last remaining nuclear plant to stay open beyond its planned 2025 closure, to ensure more power.

The National Weather Service predicted highs between 100 and 115 degrees (37.7 C and 46.1 C) across inland California, with 80s to 90s (above 26.6 C and below 37.2 C) closer to the coast. Nighttime won't bring much relief, with many places seeing lows in the 80s or even 90s (above 26.6 C and below 37.2 C).

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