California power grid operator issues stage 3 alert level, says rotating power outages ‘very possible’

FAN Editor

California’s power grid operator declared a stage 3 energy emergency alert Tuesday evening, warning that rotating power outages were “very possible” as a brutal heat wave walloping the state pushed electricity demand to its limits. 

 “Energy Emergency Alert 3 with rotating #power outages very possible. Please reduce your energy use,” The California Independent System Operator (ISO) tweeted. 

California ISO warned residents earlier Tuesday to be prepared for the possibility of rotating power outages and issued an Energy Emergency Alert (EEA) 2 for 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

Some 67,000 Californians were without power Monday evening, according to powerotage.us, while ongoing power outages affected more than 40,000 Pacific Gas and Electric Company customers across 28 counties. 

Tracy, California

A view of windmills and power lines in Tracy, California, Aug. 17, 2022, as the state’s grid operator urged residents to ratchet down electricity use during an extreme heat wave.  (Reuters/Carlos Barria / Reuters Photos / Reuters Photos)

PG&E said California ISO had directed it to prepare for possible rotating power outages due to the potential for electricity supply on the larger Western region grid to fall short of the increased demand. 

An emergency declaration Monday evening pulled additional resources onto the system when the power grid was dipping into reserves and there was the risk of power outages. Peak demand was more than 49,000 megawatts (MW). 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, wearing what appeared to be a fleece jacket, and hat, issued a statement Tuesday commending Californians’ efforts so far, but qualified that everyone needs to “double down to save energy after 4 p.m.” 

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, also rallied Californians, saying residents needed to do their “part to help avoid power outages this week.” 

“Before 4pm, pre-cool your home. After 4pm, avoid use of major appliances and turn your thermostat to 78 or higher,” he tweeted. “Let’s keep the lights on, California.” 

State energy officials said the electrical load Tuesday afternoon could top 51,000 megawatts, the highest demand the state has ever seen. The CAISO site Tuesday morning showed California could fall more than 5,000 megawatts short of its power supply at peak demand, forecasted for 5:30 pm.

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Meanwhile, the danger of wildfires was extreme as scorching heat and low humidity turned brush to tinder. Four deaths were reported over the Labor Day weekend as some 4,400 firefighters battled 14 large fires around the state, with 45 new blazes on Sunday alone.

California Heatwave

Linda Parent, of Benicia, relaxes on the beach as she enjoys the weather on Labor Day in Benicia, Calif., on Monday, Sept. 5, 2022.  (Jose Carlos Fajardo y/Bay Area News Group via AP / AP Newsroom)

California’s energy grid runs on a mix of mostly solar and natural gas during the day, along with some imports of power from other states. But solar power begins to fall off during the late afternoon and into the evening, which is the hottest time of day in some parts of the state. And some aging natural gas plants California relies on for backup power aren’t as reliable in hot weather.

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At CAISO’s request on Monday, four temporary emergency power generators deployed by the Department of Water Resources in Roseville and Yuba City were activated for the first time since they were installed last year, providing up to 120 megawatts, enough electricity for 120,000 homes.

California heatwave

People watch a plume of smoke from the Fairview Fire from a distance Monday, Sept. 5, 2022, near Hemet, Calif. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope / AP Newsroom)

CAISO also has issued a Flex Alert call for voluntary conservation between 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday, making seven alerts in as many days. Consumers were urged to keep air conditioners at 78 degrees or higher during the period and avoiding using major appliances such as ovens and dishwashers.

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The National Weather Service predicted highs between 100 and 115 degrees across inland California, with 80s to 90s closer to the coast. Nighttime won’t bring much relief, with many places seeing lows in the 80s or even 90s.

California has mandated that all new cars sold in the state must be electric starting in 2035.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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