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Power Outages Possible As Heat Wave Strains Grid

California's electricity grid operator has issued a state-wide "Flex Alert," asking consumers to reduce their energy use from Friday through Sunday – especially during the heat of the day between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Aired 8/9/12 on KPBS News.

California’s blistering heat wave and power plant equipment failures are straining the state power grid. Energy officials are calling on people to conserve.

California’s blistering heat wave and power plant equipment failures are straining the state power grid. Energy officials are calling on consumers to conserve.
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Above: California’s blistering heat wave and power plant equipment failures are straining the state power grid. Energy officials are calling on consumers to conserve.

What To Do During A Flex Alert

Turn off all unnecessary lights, computers, and appliances.

Adjust your air conditioning thermostat to 78° or higher. Use a fan when possible.

Postpone using major appliances and equipment until after 6 p.m.

California Independent System Operator spokeswoman Stephanie McCorkle said no major disruptions are forecast, but there could be a "smattering of smaller outages."

“And that happens when you see transformers fail during the high heat," McCorkle said. "It’s actually the temperatures that can cause these transformers to pop, and then you have local distribution outages. But we’re not forecasting outages that would stem from the wholesale or the high voltage level."

Thursday's peak demand for power could reach in excess of 47,000 megawatts, according to California ISO, "and that would be the highest in a couple of years – at least compared to 2010 when we reached 47,350 megawatts," said McCorkle.

The long-term loss of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant has other power plants working overtime to fill the energy hole, which McCorkle said is causing equipment failures.

"When we get into an intense heat wave, that can further strain these power plant units, and we’re starting to see some equipment failures, such as the large power plant that tripped offline last night, and that is what basically triggered the Flex Alert for tomorrow as temperatures start to climb," explained McCorkle.

Consumers are urged to set their air conditioning to 78 degrees or higher, turn off unnecessary lights and appliances and restrict their use of major appliances.

"We have seen phenomenal response from Californians to these Flex Alerts, and they know that we’re only going to call (them) when we really need to. But we can see Californians can conserve statewide sometimes in excess of 1,000 megawatts, and that’s equal to the output of a large power plant," said McCorkle.

San Diego's inland areas have been sweltering in triple-digit highs all week from a strong high pressure system over the Southwestern U.S. National Weather Service forecasters say heat and humidity will continue through the weekend.

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