Sep 5, 2023 - News

California power outage hours trending upward

Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration. Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration. Chart: Axios Visuals

California's average electricity customer experienced 5.4 hours of power outages in 2021 — up from 4.5 in 2020, and 1.7 in 2013.

Driving the news: That's per the latest available data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, an agency within the Department of Energy.

Why it matters: Electricity outages stand to become more common as extreme weather events — many driven by climate change — wreak havoc on the country's aging power infrastructure.

  • While some outages are short-lived annoyances, others are widespread events. Either can become deadly for those who depend on medical equipment or for those who lose heating or air conditioning during periods of extreme temperatures.

Zoom in: This year's historic storms resulted in widespread power outages throughout the Bay Area.

The big picture: The average U.S. electricity customer experienced 7.3 hours of power outages in 2021 — down from 8.2 hours in 2020, but more than double 2013's rate.

Between the lines: San Francisco made a bid to purchase PG&E's assets in the city for $2.5 billion back in 2019, arguing the city could provide a service that is more affordable, more reliable, and safer.

  • This past May, the city reiterated its desire to purchase the power provider's assets amid the power outages earlier this year.
  • ​"After many decades, it is time for the City to gain the energy independence that comes from owning its local grid," city officials, including Mayor London Breed and City Attorney David Chiu, wrote in a letter to PG&E.
  • In a response letter provided to Axios, PG&E CEO Patricia Poppe said the company doesn't believe San Francisco's "attempt to take our assets benefits our customers," adding a city takeover would "detrimentally affect customers" both within and outside San Francisco.
  • Yes, but: San Francisco is still pursuing the acquisition and has asked the California Public Utilities Commission to determine the value of PG&E's assets, Alex Barrett-Shorter, a spokesperson with the city attorney's office, told Axios via email.

What to watch: Efforts to modernize the grid and reduce outages are underway.

  • In July, California received $67.5 million from the Department of Energy to work toward making its power grid more resilient.
  • "As once-in-a-generation weather events test the resiliency of our grid, these life-saving investments will ensure families — especially ones in disadvantaged communities — are not left in the dark," U.S. Senator Alex Padilla said in a statement.

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