There’s a heat wave moving through California. It started last week and it continues this week. And that means California’s Independent System Operator (CalISO) is issuing “Flex Alerts” every afternoon, asking customers to cut back on power usage between 4 pm and 10 pm. That’s when generation of solar power tapers off just as people are trying to cool their homes in the evening.
— California ISO (@California_ISO) September 6, 2022
Tuesday, the heat set records in various places in norther California. It was 116 in Sacramento which topped a record temperature of 114 that was set in 1925. Stockton hit 115 yesterday which tied that city’s all time record set in 2006. Despite the Flex Alert, the state came very close to rolling blackouts. At 5:17 pm the system operator issued an Energy Emergency Alert 3, which means the grid is in danger of going down and rolling blackouts can be ordered at any time to prevent that from happening. I received an emergency notification on my phone, which sounds an alarm Californians usually hear when there’s a potential natural disaster (flash flooding) or an AMBER alert for a missing child.
Earlier today, ISO had already declared an Energy Emergency Alert (EEA) 2 for 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. tonight, which signals to participants to bid more energy into the market, and allows the ISO to tap into emergency demand response programs that provide financial incentives for reducing energy use.
As grid conditions worsened, energy supplies were determined to be insufficient to cover demand and reserves, and an EEA 3 was declared. Controlled power outages are now imminent or in process according to each utility’s emergency plan.
Tonight’s peak electricity demand is currently forecast at more than 52,000 megawatts (MW), a new historic all-time high for the grid, as the state endured the hottest day in this prolonged, record-breaking heat wave.
As predicted, the state did set a new record for power usage yesterday at just over 52,000 megawatts. The level 3 emergency was lifted at 8 pm. There were no rolling blackouts ordered by CalISO yesterday but some areas, including Davis, California, did have their grid shut down to “prevent safety hazards.”
More than 12,000 PG&E customers in Davis were powerless during some of the hottest temperatures of the day Tuesday when the highs topped out at 113 degrees…
A PG&E spokesperson explained the outage was a preventative measure called “load shutting.”
The utility stressed this was not a rolling blackout imposed by Cal ISO, issuing a statement reading, in part:
“In some instances when heat-related equipment failure is imminent PG&E will proactively deenergize to prevent safety hazards.”
California is celebrating that it avoided rolling blackouts but PG&E’s explanation for cutting power in Davis seems a bit vague. What exactly was the safety hazard they were trying to avoid? And more to the point, did cutting power in Davis help prevent the rolling blackouts that would have been necessary if an additional 12,000 customers had remained on the grid using their air conditioners? According to this site which tracks reported outages, the outage in Davis started peaking right after CalISO issued the stage 3 emergency at 5:17 pm. But officially, the blackout was ordered by PG&E and not CalISO so this doesn’t count as a rolling blackout.
There may be a reasonable explanation for this but I’ve read a number of stories about the outage in Davis and none of them really explain why it happened.
Power outages can have a big impact politically in California. Gov. Gray Davis was recalled after rolling blackouts and replaced by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is clearly preparing to run for president in a couple years, doesn’t want “rolling blackouts” on his resume (though we already had some blackouts in 2020). Even the NY Times sees the inherent political danger.
For Mr. Newsom, a rising Democratic star who has pointedly compared California’s handling of climate-driven emergencies with those of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Republican administration in Texas, the ability to forestall outages was both practically and politically important. In a recorded message released early Tuesday, Mr. Newsom had warned urgently that “the risk for outages is real.”
After the emergency was over, Newsom celebrated:
More demand on our energy grid than ever before.
But we avoided emergency power outages tonight.
We can do this. If we keep it up we can get through this unprecedented heatwave.
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) September 7, 2022
Another California politician who has been taking shots at Texas over the potential for rolling blackouts just a couple months ago found himself begging customers to conserve energy to avoid rolling blackouts yesterday.
Less than two months apart pic.twitter.com/y46QrEyCzi
— John Hasson (@SonofHas) September 7, 2022
So I think there is probably a lot of concern among California Democrats that blackouts this week would make the state look bad and leave it open to attacks from Republican-run states like Texas and Florida. I have to imagine Gov. Newsom is applying a lot of pressure behind the scenes to avoid that happening at all costs.
The heat wave isn’t over yet, at least not here in southern California. Where I live in Orange County it reached 101 on Saturday, which is very unusual. The forecast says we could hit 98 this coming Friday. So for the next few days there will be more Flex Alerts issued. Here’s a report on the situation from CBS News.