California Declares Grid Emergency

California Declares Grid Emergency
California officials declared a statewide grid emergency.

California officials declared a statewide grid emergency to cope with surging demand for power amid a blistering heat wave, raising the prospect of rolling blackouts.

The California Independent System Operator issued a level-1 energy emergency alert around 3:10 p.m. local time Wednesday after tapping all of its available power supplies. The notice, which comes after officials asked homes and businesses to conserve, is a warning that the state is anticipating power shortages.

It’s the biggest test for California’s grid since the summer of 2020, when rolling outages engulfed portions of the state. It comes as Russia’s war in Ukraine triggers an energy crisis in Europe and as record temperatures driven by climate change tax grids around the globe.  

“It’s pretty clear Mother Nature has outrun us,” Governor Gavin Newsom, who issued an emergency proclamation Wednesday to free up extra power supplies, said during a news conference. “The reality is we’re living in an age of extremes -- extreme heat, extreme drought.”

Newsom’s order temporarily loosens environmental regulations on gas-burning power plants, allowing them to run full-tilt during the heat wave, which the governor said could last for a week. It also allows businesses to use backup generators, rather than pulling electricity from the grid, and permits ships at the state’s busy ports to generate their own power while docked. 

The order also warned that the grid operator, known as Caiso, forecasts potential electricity shortages of 3 gigawatts each evening from Sept. 4 through Sept. 6.

The worst dry spell in 1,200 years has gripped nearly every inch of California with drought this summer, leaving rivers and reservoirs perilously low. That has significant implications for a state that generates about 10% of its electricity from hydroelectric dams and has aggressively closed natural-gas power plants in recent years.

The grid operator reported that about 9 gigawatts of power-generating capacity wasn’t available Wednesday, including a 480 megawatt natural-gas unit in Southern California. A gigawatt is enough to power about 750,000 homes in California. 

Officials asked residents to conserve power on both Wednesday and Thursday between 4 and 9 p.m. local time as temperatures soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). 

California’s electricity demand is forecast to build over the next week and top 48 gigawatts on Monday and Tuesday, which would be the highest on the state grid since 2017, according to Caiso. Officials are projecting a shortfall of contracted reserves -- excess supplies kept on hand as backup to prevent blackouts-- during some of the tightest hours starting Wednesday night.

“We’re seeing some supply uncertainties for later in the day, so we’re asking consumers to help stabilize the grid by conserving electricity,” Caiso spokeswoman Anne Gonzales said in an email.

The call for conservation comes hours before state lawmakers are expected to decide the fate of the state’s largest power-generating facility: the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. The two atomic reactors -- the last remaining ones in the state -- are scheduled to close by the end of 2025. But Newsom is pushing legislators to extend their lives by five years to shore up the grid against blackouts as the state transitions to renewable energy.

“This is critical in the context of making sure we have energy reliability going forward,” he said Wednesday.

--With assistance from Naureen S. Malik.

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