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Early Heat Wave, Ongoing Drought Prompts Concerns Of Long Summer Ahead For California's Power Grid

BERKELEY (KPIX 5) – The Bay Area could see record high temperatures on Thursday, and the start of summer is still two and a half months away. Some experts worry this year's summer heat could mean problems for the power grid, especially with the drought.

As air conditioners get cranked up, more power than usual gets pulled from the grid.

"Problems get really bad when we have many days of severe heat in a row," said Steven Weissman of the UC Berkeley School of Public Policy and a former administrative law judge for the California Public Utilities Commission.

Weissman said strains on the power grid will happen this summer, but this short burst of hot weather won't be enough to do it.

"It's not that occasional day like we might have [Thursday].... It's that extended period where you have 3, 4, 5 days in a row where the temperatures are up in that range," he explained.

Cal-ISO manages most of the state's power grid. It is the agency responsible for issuing Flex Alerts – asking customers to reduce power usage on hot days to ease the strain on the grid and prevent outage.

That's exactly what happened in 2020 when hundreds of thousands of people across the Bay Area were left in the dark during an August heatwave.

"As we have the continued drought, the availability of hydropower in California has been significantly undercut," Weissman told KPIX 5.

According to the California Energy Commission, the state gets 10% of the power in the grid from power plants at dams along lakes and reservoirs. When there's no water, that means no power is being generated.

Cal-ISO says there are no flex alerts planned for the week and expect to have the resources to cover the additional power demand.

Flex Alerts are different than the Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. That's when the utility de-energizes power lines to prevent wildfires during windy conditions.

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