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California Power Grid Operators Try To Avert Blackout Replay

Electrical power flow and conditions are monitored at the California Independent System Operator grid control center in Folsom, Calif., Aug. 18, 2017.
Associated Press
Electrical power flow and conditions are monitored at the California Independent System Operator grid control center in Folsom, Calif., Aug. 18, 2017.

California’s primary power grid manager approved plans Wednesday aimed at averting a repeat of the blackouts that rolled across parts of the state in August during a punishing heat wave.

The California Independent System Operator’s board approved several policies to provide financial incentives to import power, have producers procure other energy sources to compensate for plant maintenance shutdowns and require storage facilities to keep batteries charged when supplies get tight.

Elliot Mainzer, the president and CEO, said ISO wanted a feasible plan to address a “potentially challenging summer again.”

More than 800,000 homes and businesses lost power at times on Aug. 14-15 after the ISO ordered the first widespread rolling blackouts in nearly 20 years. A report later cited the extreme heat wave across the West and blamed poor planning that didn't schedule enough energy in advance and market practices that created a shortage during peak demand.

The ISO, which manages the grid and wholesale energy market for 80 percent of California, said current rules can result in lower market prices. The changes would allow producers to cover some of those costs when prices spike and provide more accurate price signals during low supplies.

Utilities and other power producers generally agreed with the pricing incentives.

Governing board member Severin Borenstein questioned whether companies might try to game the system through pricing changes that would compensate them when prices spiked.

ISO employees said they had considered that possibility because of previous schemes to game the energy market but didn't think it would come into play because these changes would only be triggered in rare occasions.

The ISO also designated a power plant in Kingsburg in Fresno County, which was scheduled to go into retirement, to be available when supplies are short.

The ISO said there would be 2,000 megawatts of storage available this summer, a tenfold increase from last year.

When energy supplies are low, entities that store power in batteries will have to reserve a minimum charge to keep the lights on at night when solar plants stop producing.

Last month, the California Public Utilities Commission allowed utilities to pass on costs to consumers to buy extra energy to avoid a repeat of last summer's electricity disruptions.