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California Grid Managers Worry About Summer Power Supply

Power transmission lines rune through Pine Valley, June 21, 2021.
Jacob Aere
Power transmission lines rune through Pine Valley, June 21, 2021.

California power managers cannot say with confidence that there will be enough power available this summer to keep the lights on and air conditioners blowing.

They are already looking at options if demand begins outstripping supply.

California Grid Managers Worry About Summer Power Supply
Listen to this story by Erik Anderson

Last summer was brutal for California electricity providers. Five times they had to ask the public for emergency conservation in an effort to keep the lights on.

Calls for conservation fell short twice and San Diego dealt with rolling power outages.

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The electrical grid manager shut off power to blocks of homes and businesses in San Diego to keep the electricity grid from collapsing. It was the first time that happened since 2001.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a heat emergency to free up power resources, but that was not enough to keep power flowing to everyone.

A prolonged heatwave in the West and electricity reserves that could not be delivered were to blame.

The power supply picture also looks shaky this year.

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“We’ve seen that some of the resources we’ve procured have run into some supply chain issues,” said Elliot Mainzer, the top official at the California Independent System Operator which is the public agency that runs the state’s electricity grid.

Wildfires, drought and widespread heat only make things worse. If any or all of those things happen the power situation in California could hit a critical stage.

“We still import about a quarter of our electricity from out of state,” Mainzer said. “so when we get simultaneously hot in the pacific northwest, the southwest, and the intermountain west the amount of power in California for imports can get stressed.”

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San Diego Gas and Electric officials have taken action to stave off blackouts this summer and fall. The utility bought more backup power and added battery storage.

SDG&E also hopes conservation keeps things from getting worse than last summer.

“Last August, our customers really showed up and they conserved energy. So customers make a big difference when our grid is strained,” said Caroline Winn, SDG&E’s CEO.

But that still might not be enough to prop up the electrical grid.

Winn concedes that things could be fine in this region, but if other areas have power supply problems, San Diego will likely feel the effects as well.