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California warned to prepare for another summer of power outages

Checking California’s electricity grid usage and demand forecasts became second nature to many residents last year after the state, troubled by soaring temperatures and deadly wildfires, temporarily cut electricity for hundreds of thousands of people in the height of summer.

With extreme heat expected this summer, the state’s energy regulator is warning that more power outages could occur despite better statewide preparedness.

“Keeping optimism is a reasonable way to put it,” Elliot Mainzer, president and CEO of California Independent System Operator, or ISO, said Thursday in a discussion hosted by the Sacramento Press Club. “If we go into another big heating event like we saw last year, our numbers tell us that the grid will be stressed again.”

More than 800,000 homes and businesses lost power for two days in August last year in a terrible heat wave that hit California and neighboring states. It was the first time in 20 years that ISO had ordered widespread blackouts.

This year, to avoid a repetitive scenario, energy regulators acquired an additional 3,500 megawatts of capacity, including 2,000 megawatts of 4-hour lithium-ion batteries that can store energy produced from renewable sources. One megawatt is enough to power hundreds of homes.

Even with the back-up batteries, California residents should expect to hear from utility companies how they can better conserve energy during the warmer months, Mainzer said.

“Does that mean we’re in the clear? Not necessarily,” Mainzer told state lawmakers this month during a watch hearing. “The most significant risk factor to grid reliability remains extreme heat, especially heat that spreads throughout the western United States. And it continues to get hotter every year.”

In 2018, California lawmakers set a goal of requiring the state’s electricity system to become carbon-free by 2045. A recent report by the California Energy Commission found that the state is expected to triple its capacity to network to meet the deadline.

More than 60% of California’s electricity is carbon-free, with about 36% coming from renewable sources, such as wind and solar power, the report says.

“Achieving 100% clean electricity by 2045 is not only a bold quest, but also a wise one,” Marybel Batjer, chair of the California Public Utility Commission, said in a statement. “Such action is necessary to avoid the worst impacts and costs of climate change and to ensure the delivery of safe, affordable, reliable and clean energy to all Californians.”

But as the most populous state moves towards a sustainable future, officials remain concerned that California’s aging infrastructure is not up to the task.

Robert Foster, former president of Southern California Edison, questioned whether the state’s mandate to make all new passenger vehicles zero-emissions by 2035 could overwhelm an already strained power grid.

“We are asking people to go to electric vehicles. We are asking people to electrify their homes, electrify their ports, electrify industry,” he said on Thursday, adding that he was driving cars. electric cars for over 20 years. “You plug a modern electric vehicle into your house, it’s like adding an extra house in terms of load on the system.”

State Senator Mike McGuire, a Democrat who features parts of Northern California, repeatedly criticized Pacific Gas & Electric during Thursday’s roundtable for mismanaging power outages in 2019 and for contributing to several massive forest fires in recent years that have killed more than 100 people and destroyed thousands of structures.

The utility company was fined nearly $ 150 million on Wednesday for its involvement in the Kincade fire, which destroyed more than 100 homes in Sonoma County in 2019; the Zogg Fire, which killed four people in Shasta County in September; and power outages that affected 50,000 people, the Associated Press reported.

PG&E also pleaded guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter after faulty equipment contributed to the destruction of an entire community, Paradise in Butte County, during the 2018 campfire.

“America’s largest utility is one of the most dysfunctional utilities, unfortunately, in the country,” McGuire said. “It’s incredibly frustrating, because what we’re going to see, due to their lack of vegetation management in the most fire-risk areas … are the same northern California communities hit. year after year for the next 10 years. “

The state power dilemma is an unwelcome addition to the growing list of grievances that Gov. Gavin Newsom will have to grapple with as a recall effort continues. In 2003, California’s energy crisis contributed to the downfall of Governor Gray Davis, who was ousted in a recall election and replaced by Hollywood superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“That’s not Governor Newsom’s problem,” Foster said. “He didn’t create it, [but] he needs to solve it. “

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