Extreme heat, electricity shortages and fires threaten ‘perfect storm’ in California

Published On: August 19, 2020

As if things could not possibly worsen during the pandemic, millions of Californians have dealt with rolling blackouts amid a record-breaking heatwave. On Sunday, August 16, Death Valley alone reached a high of 130 degrees.

California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which manages a majority of California’s electrical grid, carried out blackouts starting Friday, August 14.

“We have a perfect storm going on here,” said CAISO CEO Steve Berberich.

The blackouts are a result of a spike in energy usage during the extreme heat. With people staying home because the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an increasing strain on the power grid due to millions of Californians simultaneously using air conditioning—among other appliances—to keep cool.

Gov. Gavin Newsom points out that this is the hottest two-week period on the West coast in 70 years, with average temperatures in many cities across the state exceeding 100 degrees.

Newsom called for an investigation into the blackouts, criticizing CAISO for executing them with little notice, calling the disruptions “unacceptable and unbefitting” in a letter to energy agencies. Newsom says he found out about the blackouts only moments before they began.

“Collectively, energy regulators failed to anticipate this event and to take necessary actions to ensure reliable power to Californians,” Newsom wrote. “This cannot stand.”

The heat has also made it difficult for firefighters to extinguish wildfires that are currently scorching more than 120,000 acres. According to CNN report, “the brutal heat is…fueling more than 30 wildfires across the state.”

Newsom has placed California in a State of Emergency, signing a Heat Emergency Proclamation to free up energy capacity and reduce the need for temporary energy service disruptions, as reported by the Office of Gavin Newsom.

Over the past weekend, state officials collaborated with sources such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to secure additional electricity resources for California. The state also worked to help reduce energy consumption during peak hours.

Additionally, CAISO issued a flex alert that extended through Wednesday, August 19, for residents to limit energy and appliance usage between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m.

About the Author: Jaivon Grant

Jaivon Grant covers energy and technology issues. He is a former journalist and political commentator with Our Weekly in Los Angeles, CA. He can be reached at jaivon at govreport.org.