California declared a power grid emergency Mondayas a blistering and sustained heat wave threatened to push the state’s electricity system beyond its limit.
Officials said the state could break the all-time record for power demandtoday, as students come back to classrooms and businesses reopen after the long holiday weekend. In addition, hot and dry conditions across the state will leave it vulnerable to wildfires. Firefighters Monday were battling blazes near Big Bear Lake and Hemet.
With millions of homes and businesses cranking air conditioners to cope with temperatures above 110 degrees, electricity use in the largest U.S. state Monday was forecast to hit the highest level since 2017, raising the specter of blackouts.
“Rotating outages are a possibility today (Monday),” said Elliot Mainzer, chief executive officer of the California Independent System Operator, which runs the state’s grid. To avoid blackouts, consumers were asked to ramp up conservation by two or three times, Mainzer said Monday during a media briefing.
“We are now moving into the extreme part of this heat wave, and really stepping up those actions will be essential for maintaining reliability,” Mainzer said.
If voluntary conservation measures were to have fallen short Monday, the grid operator was set to declare a level-two emergency, which would have freed up more generation supplies, he said. Rotating blackouts were a last resort.
“It is extraordinarily hot in California, a record-setting heat wave in California,” Mainzer said, “and the desert Southwest is also very, very hot.”
Through Friday,temperatures are expected to exceed 100 degrees across the Southern California region, according to the National Weather Service.
The Inland Empire, including Riverside, Fontana and San Bernardino, should prepare for “dangerously hot conditions,” the weather service said inan update Monday, with temperatures expected to hit anywhere from 104 to 111 degrees through Friday evening. The Santa Ana Mountains and foothills are expected to reach a high of 102 degrees, also through Friday.
The weather service said there was also a slight chance of desert thunderstorms throughtoday. The Antelope Valley and San Gabriel Mountains are most at risk, though the weather service forecasts less severe storms than those reported in the same areas onSunday.
Residents in Los Angeles County will fare slightly better than those in the Inland Empire, said the weather service, with highs up to 100 degrees expected through 8 p.m. Wednesday. Monday’s temperatures in downtown L.A. were expected to be the highest of the week.
The prospect of blackouts underscores how grids have become vulnerable in the face of extreme weather as they transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
California has aggressively closed natural gas power plants in recent years, leaving the state increasingly dependent on solar farms that go dark late in the day just as electricity demand peaks. At the same time, the state is enduring its worst drought in years, sapping hydropower production.
The heat wave, which began the last week of August, is remarkable for both its ferocity and duration, officials said.
Each day the heat drags on, the risk of power failures rises. Searing temperatures seep into concrete over time, making it increasingly difficult to cool buildings. And the longer power plants run full tilt, the more likely they are to break down.
Ahead of the heat wave, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an emergency proclamation to free up extra power supplies.
The fight to keep power flowing in California is complicated by wildfires near Los Angeles and San Diego that are threatening transmission lines and power plants, though there had been no major interruptions as of Sunday evening, Mainzer said.
A break from the heat will come across Southern California later this week, thanks to tropical storm Kay in the Pacific Ocean, Oravec said.
Kay, set to become a hurricane later this week, is forecast to edge up the coastline of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. As it moves north, the storm will pump moisture and clouds into Southern California and Arizona, taking an edge off the heat.