Will California still have power outages this summer?
Torrential rains and massive snow dumps wreaked havoc across California last winter. But the wild weather has brought a benefit: water storage tanks now have abundant reserves of H₂O to turn on the state’s hydroelectric power generators this summer.
That fact, combined with the record expansion of large-scale solar power and battery storage, has convinced energy forecasters that the state can avoid potentially dangerous power shortages of the kind that have accompanied last September’s 10-day heat wave, state officials said at a press briefing Wednesday.
The country’s most populous state normally has more than enough electricity to power the homes and businesses of more than 39 million people. But the power grid struggles when it’s really hot and everyone turns on their air conditioners at the same time.
The state’s power grid has been strained in part due to a severe drought that has kept reservoirs at dangerously low levels, leaving little water available to flow through hydroelectric plants. Lake Oroville’s water level got so low in 2021 that state officials had to shut down a hydroelectric plant capable of powering 80,000 homes.
That won’t be a problem this year after winter storms dumped massive amounts of rain and snow on the state. Additionally, an additional 8,594 megawatts of wind, solar and battery storage are expected to come online by September 1, according to Neil Millar, vice president of transmission planning and infrastructure development for the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s electricity. gate.
One megawatt of electricity is enough to power about 750 homes.
“We are better placed than last year. We are cautiously optimistic,” said Silva Gunda, commissioner at the California Energy Commission. State officials noted that the forecast is based on average temperature ranges and that weather conditions in recent years have been anything but average. “But given the extreme savagery of climate change, you know we have to be careful as we move forward and ready to support the network.”
In supporting the network, he references California residents’ drive last September to reduce their energy use, especially during peak hours between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. Without the cuts, utilities would likely have resorted to blackouts.
Meteorologists are warning that this year’s El Niño weather pattern could cause particularly severe heat waves that could again lead to imbalances in electricity supply at the end of the summer.
While state officials have suggested the wet winter could reduce the risk of wildfires — a source of major, widespread and long-lasting power outages — in parts of the state this year, activity low-level grass fires could still be a wildcard.
Energy officials have suggested Californians sign up for the Flex Alert program, which sends text or email messages with advance warnings of potential power shortages.
And California Public Utilities Commission officials said residents can enroll in the Power Saver Rewards program, which offers a credit on the utility bill to reduce power consumption when a flex alert is declared.
The struggle to power the state during severe heat waves has been a problem for Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has aggressively moved the state away from fossil fuels. California now gets much of its electricity from sources such as wind and solar. But these energy sources are not always available.
To prevent power outages during heat waves, Newsom and the state legislature spent $3.3 billion to create a “Strategic Reliability Reserve.” State officials used the money to extend the life of some gas-fired power plants that were to be shut down and to purchase large diesel generators. Last September, when a severe heat wave pushed demand for electricity across the state to an all-time high, that reserve generated as much as 1,416 megawatts of power.
On Thursday, Newsom is expected to update his plan to move the state away from fossil fuels and “outline a plan to meet California’s ambitious climate goals,” according to a press release from the governor’s office.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Los Angeles Times