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By Tim Hunt

Rolling blackouts in the world's 5th largest economy

Uploaded: Aug 18, 2020

Is anyone besides me quite irritated that California is having rolling blackouts for the first time in 20 years.

The California Independent System Operator ordered electrical power shutout to more than two million customers served by the state’s three major utilities last Friday. That was followed by more rotating outages and that was before Sunday morning’s rare heavy thunder and lightening storms knocked out power to thousands in the Bay Area.

It's amazing that the world's 5th largest economy cannot keep the lights on.

Yes, we are in a hot spell—it’s August in California after all—and there have been some record high temperatures (although it was the soaring humidity from the storm coming up from the tropics that made it particularly uncomfortable. As I was musing to one friend, before the widespread adoption of air conditioners people in many parts of the country lived with high temperatures and high humidity every summer. When I was in Boston in August one year, I came to understand from experience the description of “the dog days of August.”

The Bay Area temperatures have not come close to those of 2006 when they soared in the mid-teens, 115 or thereabout. That spell was so hot that when temperatures fell to 100, there was relief. Heat-related deaths felled 140 Californians during that time.

What’s truly disturbing, as CalMatters reported Monday, is that the peak demand of 50,270 megawatts in 2006 did not require rolling blackouts to manage. Peak demand on Friday was 46,800. The system operator attributed the need for blackouts to two power plants being out-of-service and the heat.

Did you also notice the timing 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. The CalMatters report also noted that the state has a higher reliance on solar power than it did 14 years ago and the sun does go down. Policy established by the Legislature and Governors Brown and Newsom wants to ban all fossil fuels from the state’s power grid by 2040 or sooner. That’s led to law that requires cities to only allow electrical appliances in new homes, eliminating clean burning natural gas for heating water, drying clothes and cooking.

Natural gas also was the power of choice for the peaker plants that were built to add generating capacity for weeks just like this one. What’s going to power our homes if the state continues down this same path and leans even more on the renewable sources?

For us Northern California residents, throw in PG&E’s ancient grid, the lack of maintenance and system upgrades with the complicity of the Public Utilities Commission, the threat of wildfires ignited by PG&E equipment and you have a true mess.

Yet, you don’t hear the politicians in Sacramento expressing any second thoughts about overall policy. The governor called for an investigation into what has gone wrong. Maybe the governor and the legislators should go through the 16-hour power outage my neighborhood did Saturday night and Sunday and understand first-hand the future they’re charting for California.

Reliable power, ideally at far lower cost than we pay in California, is foundation for our economy and our lives.