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article imageCalifornia heatwave spurs first rolling power outages in 19 years

By Karen Graham     Aug 15, 2020 in Environment
The California Independent System Operator (ISO) declared a statewide Stage 3 power emergency Friday evening as excessive heat drove up electricity use, forcing rolling blackouts across the state until the power grid stabilized.
The emergency was declared at 6:30 p.m. California time. Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility, tweeted that it would turn off power to about 200,000 to 250,000 customers in rotating outages for about an hour at a time. Other utilities were instructed to do the same, reports the Associated Press.
The emergency declaration ended just before 10 p.m. local time and California ISO said power had been restored statewide. "Extreme heat is really the driver behind this," said Anne Gonzales, spokesperson for the power grid operator, according to CBC Canada.
The move came as temperatures around the state hit triple digits in many areas and air conditioning use soared, with temperatures in some areas being 10 to 20 degrees higher than normal. In addition, remnants of a tropical system reduced power generation from solar plants, Gonzales said.
Through all this, the state has tried to prepare customers for the likelihood of rolling power outages, urging everyone to conserve electricity, while at the same time, trying to buy more electricity from other areas. But with a high pressure system building over Western states, there wasn't much available.
California's current heatwave is expected to last through next week, and Gonzales said the ISO will decide whether to continue the rolling outages on a day-to-day basis. “We’re dealing with weather, clouds, wildfires ... these are quickly evolving situations, quickly changing,” Gonzales said.
The last time the state ordered rolling blackouts was in 2001. The crisis was the result a shortage of electricity supply caused by market manipulations and capped retail electricity prices.
Enron Corporation was right in the middle of what was going on that caused an economic crisis for the state and harmed Governor Gray Davis's standing. Counties up and down the state reported scattered outages, although the city of Los Angeles, which has its own power generating system, wasn’t affected.
Heat records broken
The current heat wave has brought in dangerously high temperatures, increased the wildfire risk and increased fears of the coronavirus spreading even further as people seek relief from the sweltering heat by crowding the beaches.
A number of temperature records were broken. Downtown San Francisco hit 90 degrees (32 degrees C), topping a high for the date of 86 that was set in 1995. Salinas hit 102 (38 C), 18 degrees above the record set just last year. Palm Springs hit 120 (49 C), breaking a 2015 record by several degrees.
It is expected that more records could be broken as the sweltering heat is supposed to last through Wednesday this week. Health officials are saying that while cooling centers have been opened, there is limited capacity because of the social distancing requirements.
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