California officials are warning residents to prepare for rolling blackouts Tuesday evening as a blistering heat wave drives up demand for electricity to record levels.
For a second consecutive day, the state’s grid operator issued a level-2 energy emergency alert at 2 p.m. local time as temperatures soared above 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3 degrees Celsius) across much of California. The emergency declaration allows officials to order some large power consumers to shut down in a last-ditch effort to avoid outages.
“We are heading into the worst part of this heat wave, and the risk for outages is real and it’s immediate,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a video posted Tuesday on Twitter.
He urged residents and businesses to cut back on energy use during the late afternoon and early evening to help the state avoid outages.
California’s grid operator issued a level-1 emergency alert for 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. local time, when energy shortages are expected and utilities will be directed to tell some customers to reduce power. Peak demand may top 51 gigawatts at 5:30 p.m., which would set a new record, according to the California Independent System Operator, which runs most of the state’s grid. A gigawatt is enough to power about 750,000 Californian homes.
The most populous US state avoided rolling outages from the blistering temperatures Monday, though higher readings Tuesday are further testing the network with electrical demand set to climb as schools and businesses reopening after the Labour Day holiday.
The prospect of outages underscores how grids have become vulnerable in the face of extreme weather as they transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. California has aggressively closed natural-gas power plants in recent years, leaving the state increasingly dependent on solar farms that go dark late in the day just as electricity demand peaks. At the same time, the state is enduring the Southwest’s worst drought in 1,200 years, sapping hydropower production.
The energy warnings come as much of California remains under an excessive heat warning through Friday. The heat wave, which began in the last week of August, is remarkable in both its ferocity and duration, according to officials. Sacramento on Tuesday was forecast to have a high near 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius) — a degree hotter than Monday, which was a record for that date.
“We’re looking at a lot of records today,” said Bob Oravec, a senior branch forecaster at the US Weather Prediction Center. “They are having a lot of issues with power out there, and this isn’t going to help.”
Average day-ahead prices for power on Tuesday in the southern part of the state surged 44% to $300.55 a megawatt-hour, the highest in 18 months.
A break from the heat will come across Southern California later this week, thanks to Tropical Storm Kay in the Pacific Ocean, Oravec said. Kay is forecast to edge up the coastline of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. As it moves north, the storm will pump moisture and clouds into Southern California and Arizona, taking an edge off the heat.
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