California is unlikely to run out of electricity this summer
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California regulators say the state is unlikely to experience power shortages this summer after securing new energy sources and wet winter that filled the state’s reservoirs enough to restart hydroelectric plants that had been dormant during the drought.
The nation’s most populous state typically has more than enough electricity to power the homes and businesses of more than 39 million people. But there are problems with the electrical network when it gets very hot and everyone turns on the air conditioner at the same time.
August 2020 was so hot that California’s power grid was overloaded, forcing the state’s three largest utilities turn off the electricity for hundreds of thousands of homes for several hours over two consecutive days. Similar heat waves in 2021 and 2022 again pushed the state to the limit. State officials avoided blackouts by encouraging people to conserve energy and plugging in some emergency gas generators.
The state’s power grid has been strained in part because of a severe drought that has left reservoirs dangerously low, leaving little water available to run through hydroelectric plants. In 2021, the water level in Lake Oroville dropped so low that state officials were forced to stopped the operation of the hydroelectric plant which was capable of powering 80,000 homes.
That won’t be a problem this year after winter storms dumped heavy rain and snow on the state. In addition, an additional 8,594 megawatts of wind, solar and battery power will come online by Sept. 1, according to Neil Millar, vice president of transmission planning and infrastructure development for the California Independent System Operator.
One megawatt of electricity is enough to power about 750 houses.
“I’m relieved to say that we’re in a much better position than we were going into 2022,” said Siva Gunda, vice chairman of the California Energy Commission.
The state’s power struggle during the sweltering heat has been a challenge for Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has aggressively phased out fossil fuels. California now gets most of its energy from sources like wind and solar. But these sources of power are not always available.
To avoid power outages during heatwaves, 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 slated to be shut down and to buy large diesel engines. Last September, when intense heat pushed the country’s electricity demand to an all-time high, this reserve produced up to 1,416 megawatts of energy.
On Thursday, Newsom was set to update his plan to divest the state of fossil fuels and “outline a plan to meet California’s ambitious climate goals,” according to a news release from the governor’s office.
While officials say the state should avoid a critical power shortage, they caution that the weather could change that. Forest fires are also a threat knock out key power lines. These things can still trigger a “flexible alert” that alerts people to the need to save energy.
“I would say people shouldn’t be surprised to see a warning about flexibility,” said Alice Reynolds, president of the California Public Utilities Commission. “I mean, we’re talking about extreme heat, unusual events that are difficult to manage.”