Flex Alert Remains in Effect Statewide; Rolling Blackouts Possible


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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A statewide Flex Alert was in effect through tomorrow night, with all Californians urged to conserve electricity between the hours of 3 and 10 p-m to avoid rolling blackouts as the state struggles through its worst heat wave in years.

Residents are being asked to use air conditioning early in the day and set thermostats at 78 in the afternoon and evening hours, while avoiding the use of major appliances between the hours of 3 and 10 p.m.

Officials were also urging businesses statewide to restrict their usage. In some cases, the state is asking business owners to support outreach to their customers about conserving energy.

Gov. Gavin Newsom cited the electric vehicle manufacturer Telsa as one business working closely with the state.

On Monday, Newsom warned Californians to be prepared for more rolling blackouts over the next 72 hours -- which he called “very likely'' -- as the state struggles to meet demand for electricity during a historic, record-breaking heat wave.

The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, which supplies the city's electricity, should not be affected by the outages, because it runs its own plants and has sufficient supply to help support the state grid.

“We own our own power plants and transmission lines and had enough supply to meet demand and required reserves,'' the utility said in a statement Monday. “We have called on our customers to continue conserving to help the state grid and reduce strain on the system.

“LADWP is not a part of the CAISO, but is assisting the state grid by providing energy to them to help reduce the number of customers affected by rolling blackouts elsewhere in the state.''

On Monday night, rolling blackouts that could have affected nearly 1 million households were averted, thanks to reduced demand due to consumer conservation and cooler than expected weather, the California Independent System Operator announced.

California ISO declared a statewide Stage 2 Emergency at 4:25 p.m. Monday, saying it anticipated asking utilities to shed 1,400 megawatts of power between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. However, demand was lower than forecast and the Stage 2 Emergency was canceled at 7:30 p.m.

“We are grateful to families and businesses across the state that answered the call to reduce electricity use during a crucial time on the grid,'' said Steve Berberich, president and CEO of California ISO, which controls roughly 80% of the state's power grid through Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric

“This heat storm is not over, and we still expect exceedingly hot temperatures tomorrow and Wednesday. With continued help from California residents in conserving energy, much like today, we can reduce the risk of power outages.''

Widespread rotating blackouts could occur in the days ahead and some customers who were hit by outages last weekend could lose power again, according to SDG&E.

Several factors combined to create the supply/demand imbalance, Berberich said.

“We have a perfect storm going on here,'' Berberich told reporters in an afternoon briefing.

Newsom agreed that despite using “all the tools in the tool kit'' to meet demand, “we are likely to fall short'' as oppressive temperatures stress the state's energy system.

“These next few days we are anticipating a challenge,'' Newsom said, as he outlined efforts to buy more power from out of state, work with the biggest users of energy -- including large container ships --- to limit use, and better manage the state's supply.

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Newsom said the state should have been better prepared to avoid unscheduled blackouts.

“You can't control the weather but you can prepare for weather events,'' Newsom said. “We failed to prepare ... I'm ultimately accountable.''

Big power users are being allowed to shift to backup sources and stored energy that is typically restricted as state officials work to urgently deploy more resources systemwide, according to Newsom.

Newsom pointed to the state's shift to renewable resources as part of the reason for the supply shortage. Shutting down polluting gas power plants has created gaps in the state's energy supply, he said.

While the state remains committed to a greener future, Newsom said, “We cannot sacrifice reliability'' and promised that officials would be “much more aggressive ... in making sure that is the case.''

Gas power plants, sometimes referred to as “peaker plants'' to be relied on only to meet peak demand, could conceivably be brought back on line within the 72-hour period, Berberich said, but maintenance issues could pose problems.

California ISO would not control that process and Berberich could not say which power plants might be considered.

Newsom announced that he had signed an emergency proclamation to free up energy capacity.

That proclamation suspends permitting requirements related to air quality issues and allows some users and utilities to access backup energy sources to relieve pressure on the grid during peak times.

Availability of out-of-state supply, which accounts for about 25% of California's energy, is limited.

Berberich said the state's Public Utilities Commission could have avoided the outages if it had moved more quickly to better secure imports and put enough resources in place to meet peak demand.

The alert followed weekend blackouts that began Friday -- the state's first such outages since 2001 -- that Newsom said came without warning. He called the weekend service disruptions “unacceptable.''

Over the weekend, state officials worked to bring more resources online, including increased power from the LADWP, the California State Water Project and investor-owned utilities, according to the governor's office.

LADWP was expected to supply 900 megawatts of power to the state grid Tuesday.

“That's thousands and thousands of homes that would otherwise lose power,'' Berberich said.

On Sunday, Newsom met with members of the California Independent System Operator, California Public Utilities Commission, California Energy Commission, Governor's Office of Emergency Services and senior administration officials.

In a letter written after the meeting, Newsom said the blackouts were called Friday and Saturday without notice and demanded an investigation.

“Residents, communities and other governmental organizations did not receive sufficient warning that these de-energizations could occur.Collectively, energy regulators failed to anticipate this event and to take necessary actions to ensure reliable power to Californians,'' Newsom wrote.

“This cannot stand. California residents and businesses deserve better from their government.''

Power providers say a lack of supply from sources outside the state contributed to the shortage, as other Western states struggled to meet their own demand during the heat wave.

Tips for conserving energy include:

-- setting air conditioning thermostats to 78 degrees;

-- deferring use of major appliances;

-- turning off unnecessary lights;

-- unplugging unused electrical devices;

-- closing blinds and drapes;

-- relying on fans when possible; and

-- limiting time the refrigerator door is open.

Consumers can also pre-cool their homes during earlier hours, when they can also charge electric vehicles, medical equipment, mobile devices and laptops and run major appliances. Pool pumps can be set to run in the early morning or late at night.

Customers in danger of losing power should turn off their lights -- leaving one on to alert them when power returns -- and unplug electronic devices, televisions and air conditioners in anticipation of outages to prevent damage.

Utilities advised keeping a fully charged cell phone on hand, along with flashlights and batteries. Leave refrigerators running with the door closed to keep food cold. Motorists should be alert for the possibility that traffic lights and signals may be shut down.

Customers who rely on electric or battery-dependent medical technologies, such as breathing machines, power wheelchairs/scooters, and home oxygen or dialysis, were urged to be prepared to activate their emergency plans.

More conservation tips, along with safety measures to be taken in the event of outages, can be found at flexalert.org.

Photos: Getty Images


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