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UPDATE: Wednesday Flex Alert Issued by Cal ISO Goes Into Effect; Energy Conservation Encouraged

FOLSOM (CBS SF) -- A statewide Flex Alert calling for the conservation of electricity amid hotter temperatures across Northern California went into effect Wednesday afternoon.

The California Independent System Operator (ISO) scheduled the Flex Alert Tuesday. The Cal ISO is asking residents to conserve electricity from 4 p.m to 9 p.m., to reduce the strain on the state's power grid.

While the Bay Area was mostly seeing moderate temperatures Wednesday, much of Northern California -- particularly the Central Valley -- was anticipated temperatures in the upper 90s and low 100s.

As the latest Flex Alert went into effect, the question of whether Californians would make an effort to actually conserve energy was a concern.

"California relies a lot on hydro, and we're getting very low hydro this summer," said Professor Lucas Davis of UC Berkeley. "That's the real challenge, combined with the fact that we already import a lot of electricity. But there's limits to how much we can import."

As the drought worsens, so does California's energy crunch. The addition of warm temperatures has led to six flex alerts so far this year.

"It turns into white noise," said Paul Whitten of Pittsburg. "It turns into the boy who cried wolf."

"As with any calls to do anything, I think you get desensitized over time," said Davis, a professor and researcher at UC Berkeley's Energy Institute. He understands why a lot of Californians are increasingly frustrated with the power situation.

Beyond long term questions about the state's energy needs, there's the immediate problem of avoiding brownouts in the short term, which will require energy conservation.

"But I don't think flex alerts are the way to do it," Davis said. "There's just not that much a lot of households can do."

Much like California's large-scale water users, the state also has high consumption energy users. Davis posits that a more agreeable solution might be to encourage conservation where the most energy is actually being used, rather than average households.

"Commercial and industrial," Davis explained. "We know from a lot of studies that commercial and industrial customers respond; When electricity prices go up, they use less electricity. So that can help balance it."

During the Flex Alert, California electricity consumers are asked to set their thermostat to 78 degrees or higher, if health permits; avoid using major appliances; turn off unnecessary lights; use fans for cooling; and unplug unused electronics.

In the hours prior to the Flex Alert taking effect, consumers were advised to take the following steps to help the state manage energy use later in the day:

  • Pre-cool your home by lowering the thermostat
  • If you need to use your major appliances, do it earlier in the day, when solar energy is abundant
  • Close window coverings to keep your home or apartment cool
  • Take advantage of the solar energy to charge electronic devices and electric vehicles so there's no need to do it later, when solar is not available

The above steps can also help people be more comfortable when cutting back on their electricity usage.

For information on Flex Alerts, and to get more electricity conservation tips, visit the Cal ISO's Flex Alert website.

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