California Having Worst Heat Wave in Years

Rolling power outages ordered as demand soars
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 16, 2020 5:41 AM CDT
California Having Worst Heat Wave in Years
Visitors crowd the beach in Manhattan Beach, Calif., amid the coronavirus pandemic Saturday. Aug. 15, 2020. The heat wave brought dangerously high temperatures, increased wildfire danger, and fears of coronavirus spread as people flock to beaches and parks for relief.   (AP Photo/John Antczak)

A heat wave baking California in triple-digit temperatures is straining the electrical system, reports the AP. But Saturday afternoon, the California Independent System Operator, which manages the power grid, said that it did not need to order power outages because the grid was able to handle demand. California ISO ordered the first rolling outages in nearly 20 years on Friday when it directed utilities to shed their power loads. The state's three biggest utilities—Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric—turned off power to more than 410,000 homes and businesses for about an hour at a time until the emergency declaration ended 3 1/2 hours later. The move came as temps around the state hit triple digits—in what the Los Angeles Times calls "broiling conditions that ... may rival the deadly seven-day heat event of July 2006"—and air conditioning use soared.

The power grid is mostly stressed during the late afternoon and early evening because of higher demand and solar production falling. The state tried to prepare for the expected rise in electricity use by urging conservation and trying to buy more power. But a high-pressure system building over Western states meant there was less available. A power outage caused a pump to fail at a wastewater treatment plant in Oakland, resulting in a sewer backup and the release of some 50,000 gallons of raw sewage into a waterway. The state remained gripped by the heat wave Saturday, with several records either tied or broken. The last time the state ordered rolling outages was during an energy crisis in 2001. The heat wave brought brutally high temperatures, increased wildfire danger, and fears of coronavirus spread as people flock to beaches and parks for relief. “People will want to take off their masks when it’s hot," says an epidemiologist at UC San Francisco. "Don’t do it.”

(Read more heat wave stories.)

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