Struggling to stave off rolling blackouts Labor Day evening, managers of California’s beleaguered power grid declared an energy emergency alert Monday and warned that Californians might have to double or triple their energy conservation efforts to prevent the lights from going out.
The Independent System Operator, which runs the electricity grid, declared a Stage 2 emergency alert effective 6:30 p.m. Monday, a sign that supplies were turning increasingly tight as temperatures rose to 110 degrees and beyond.
Stage 2 means the organization is “forecasting an energy deficiency” and directing utilities to take steps to reduce the strain on the grid. That could include calling on backup generators that normally sit idle because of air pollution regulations. Blackouts — the first in two years — would likely come if the crisis progressed to the point that the ISO had to declare a Stage 3 alert.
Complicating matters, the ISO also declared a “transmission emergency” for Northern California, saying it needed to “relieve overloads in the Palermo area” of Butte County. It wasn’t immediately clear how much that would complicate the ISO’s efforts to keep the lights on.
“We have now entered the most intense phase of this heat wave,” Elliot Mainzer, president and chief executive of the ISO, said earlier in the day. “The potential for rotating outages has increased significantly.” Mainzer said the grid was looking at “energy deficits of 2,000 to 4,000 megawatts, which is as much as 10% of normal electricity demand.” That could take as many as 3 million households offline.
The Flex Alert — a call for voluntary conservation for a sixth straight evening — was in effect from 4 to 10 p.m., an hour longer than usual, underscoring the increasingly dicey conditions on the grid as temperatures across parts of inland California were expected to soar to 110 degrees or higher.
Mainzer said Californians have rallied during the heat wave, reducing their consumption by nearly 1,000 megawatts both Saturday and Sunday nights — enough electricity for more than 750,000 households.
But to get through Labor Day unscathed, he said those conservation efforts would have to double or triple.
At around noon, power consumption was expected to peak Monday evening at 48,961 megawatts. But at 6 p.m. it had already topped that prediction by a few megawatts.
Tuesday was shaping up as considerably worse: a peak demand of 51,144 megawatts, breaking a 16-year-old record for energy use in California.
“We are on razor thin margins,” said Siva Gunda, vice chairman of the California Energy Commission.
The state scrambled to keep the lights on. A small fleet of new gas-fired power generators in Roseville and Yuba City, authorized by the state last year and operated by the Department of Water Resources, was turned on for the first time. They generated enough power for about 120,000 homes.
During a Flex Alert, Californians are urged to cool off their homes ahead of time and then turn up thermostats to 78 degrees. They also are asked to defer using heavy appliances.
“We know this has been a long haul,” Mainzer said, “and it’s about to get even more difficult.”
Temperatures are expected to stay well above 100 degrees in the capital region for the bulk of the week after the National Weather Service extended its excessive heat warning through Thursday night.
Pacific Gas & Electric is reporting massive power outages across the Bay Area as the region sees high temperatures throughout the day. The North Bay, East Bay, and South Bay have all been hit hard by outages Monday afternoon.
More than 20,000 customers across the Bay Area were without power. The largest outage is in Livermore, affecting more than 5,000 people. Below is a list of just some of the largest outages in the region:
- Livermore: 5,666 customers without power
- Cupertino: 2,187 customers without power
- Pleasant Hill: 2,080 customers without power
- Morgan Hill: 1,914 customers without power
- Santa Clara: 1,582 customers without power
- San Carlos: 1,489 customers without power
- Walnut Creek: 1,346 customers without power
- Pleasanton: 1,105 customers without power
- Rohnert Park: 1,009 customers without power
- San Jose: 1,072 customers without power
- Vallejo: 882 customers without power
The numbers above were as of 6:40 p.m. There are other smaller outages not included in the list above.
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