Aug 18, 2020 - Energy & Environment

California's searing power crisis

California on August 14 ordered rolling power outages for the first time since 2001 as a statewide heat wave strained its electrical system.
California ordered rolling power outages for the first time since 2001 as a statewide heat wave strained its electrical system. Photo: Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images

California on Monday avoided a repeat of the rolling blackouts imposed last weekend, as the state's grid operator cited lower temperatures and conservation.

Where it stands: The state is nowhere near out of the woods in the near term, and certainly not in the long term as officials scramble to shore up the grid against heat and wildfire threats. The California Independent System Operator's current "flex alert"calls for conservation steps and warns of outages remains in effect through Wednesday.

What's new: Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday demanded that state power officials conduct an investigation into the outages Friday and Saturday.

  • "These blackouts, which occurred without prior warning or enough time for preparation, are unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state," he said in a letter to the state's utilities commission, energy commission and grid operator.

The intrigue: The blackouts show the challenges facing the nation's most populous state as it moves away from fossil fuels and expands the use of renewables, notably solar power that wanes late in the day when demand is high.

  • Newsom's letter calls the failure to predict shortages on Aug. 14 and 15 "unacceptable particularly given our state's work to combat climate change." It calls on the grid operator to review its assumptions around solar capacity.
  • "The emergency outages, though brief to date, demonstrate the challenges California faces in making sure its transition to cleaner power doesn’t come at the expense of reliability," the Wall Street Journal reports in a deeper look at the topic.
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