California Issues Rolling Blackout Warning as Heatwave Peaks

'Every watt counts': Flex Alert urges Californians to conserve energy as mercury to hit 124 °F
September 6, 2020 Updated: September 6, 2020

California’s Independent System Operator (CAISO) issued a Flex Alert Sunday, asking Californians to slash power consumption to prevent rolling blackouts. CAISO said Sunday looks set to be the “most challenging” of the Labor Day weekend heatwave baking the state.

The power grid operator stated that excessive heat throughout the western United States and wildfires threatening power lines were the reason for the Flex Alert, and reminded Californians that “every watt counts” in the battle to prevent rolling blackouts across much of California.

According to the Flex Alert, “Based on the current forecast and without significant conservation efforts, rotating power outages are likely throughout the state today between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m.”

The National Weather Service (NWS) issued an Excessive Heat Warning that is to remain in place until 8 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 7. The mercury is expected to hit highs of up to 119 °F in Los Angeles County on Sunday in what the Service termed “Dangerously hot conditions.”

The NWS also forecast highs of up to 124 °F for Death Valley on Sunday.

Grid Under Pressure

The CAISO said it managed to avoid blackouts on Saturday despite its declaring a Stage 2 power emergency warning as a punishing heatwave returned to the state on Friday.

In California, a ‘Stage 2’ electricity emergency means that the CAISO—a non-profit body responsible for overseeing the operation of California’s electricity market, transmission lines, and bulk electric power system—has taken all available mitigation actions “and is no longer able to provide its expected energy requirements.”

California’s Governor Gavin Newsom signed an Emergency Proclamation Thursday to free up additional energy capacity, and declared a state of emergency across California.

According to a statement from the Governor, “The proclamation permits power plants to generate more power by suspending certain permitting requirements, helping to alleviate the heat-induced demands on the state’s energy grid.” In addition, the proclamation contains provisions for the use of generators and auxiliary ship engines to provide extra power.

“Wildfires have caused system failures, while near record energy demand is predicted as a multi-state heat wave hits the West Coast for the second time in a matter of weeks,” Newsom said in a statement on Saturday. “Californians are rising to the occasion to meet these unprecedented challenges for our energy grid, and I want to thank all of the businesses and individuals who are conserving energy. Californians should heed CAISO’s warnings and flex their power to shift energy consumption to earlier in the day today, and protect against predicted shortages Sunday and Monday.”

The Governor’s Office recommends Californians pre-cool their homes in the morning before turning up their thermostats at peak energy-demand times, i.e. from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Consumers should also refrain from using major appliances such as washers and driers in that time period, and should turn off lights and unnecessary appliances.