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    Increasing likelihood of rolling blackouts


    September 6, 2022 - Kate Galbraith

     

      Starting Monday, California will see its highest chance of rolling blackouts as the heat wave intensifies, grid officials said Sunday. "This multiday event is going to get much more intense," Elliot Mainzer, CEO of the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state grid, told reporters Sunday. California is facing "the highest likelihood of rotating outages we've seen so far" this summer beginning Monday, he said. The grid operator has asked Californians to reduce their electricity use from 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday -- a request known as a Flex Alert -- and from 4 to 10 p.m. Monday. The late afternoon and evening are when air conditioning demand is extremely high, causing strain on the power grid. More Flex Alerts are a virtual certainty as the workweek begins. Demand peaked above 44,000 megawatts Sunday but is projected to rise sharply on Labor Day as the worst of the heat arrives. It is projected to peak at 48,867 megawatts Monday and 50,099 megawatts Tuesday -- which would be close to an all-time high and reflects both the continuing heat and the fact that Californians tend to use more power on weekdays than weekends. Demand could top 49,000 megawatts Wednesday and remain high through most of the week. To put that in perspective, California has exceeded 50,000 megawatts of demand only twice in the past 20 years. The all-time record was 50,270 on July 24, 2006. California's demand reached 50,116 one day in 2017. Officials said the grid is expected to go through various states of emergency Monday, even if rolling blackouts are ultimately averted -- and a key goal is keeping demand lower than forecast. An early stage of emergency alert has already been called for Monday from 5 to 10 p.m.; that early stage alert was also in effect Sunday from 5 to 8 p.m. State officials plan to use all possible means of reducing demand and boosting supply in the late afternoons and evenings. Beside the Flex Alerts, options during crunch times include allowing businesses to use backup generators -- a practice normally discouraged for environmental reasons -- and cutting demand in other ways, for example, by reducing pumping at the energy-intensive State Water Project and having ships use onboard power rather than plugging in at ports. One additional challenge is that in extreme heat, some plants that use water for cooling -- like natural gas plants, especially older ones that are called into service for emergencies -- cannot run at their full capacity or break down. Three gas plants in California have already experienced partial blackouts in the heat wave, according to Mark Rothleder, chief operating officer for the grid. "When you get these high temperatures, equipment does fail," Rothleder said. The length of the current heat wave increases the challenge. Grid officials are also concerned that wildfires could shut down transmission lines, but so far that has not happened in a major way. Imports of electricity generated by hydropower plants in the Pacific Northwest have been strong, Rothleder said, though he's hoping that California can import more power than is forecast for Monday. In a positive sign, electricity demand Saturday was roughly 2% lower than grid officials expected. "That was encouraging that some of the steps that consumers are taking across California are contributing to the load reductions," Mainzer said, adding that he very much appreciates residents' efforts. Kate Galbraith is The San Francisco Chronicle's climate editor. Email: kgalbraith@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @kategalbraith

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