Newsom declares heat wave emergency as California issues second Flex Alert urging conservation

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Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Thursday over the heat wave gripping California and the West, while the managers of the state’s power grid issued another call for conservation — the second in two days — as temperatures surged past 100 degrees.

Newsom’s emergency proclamation, among other things, directs air districts to temporarily suspend rules that could prevent power plants from ramping up operations to meet the demand for electricity. The proclamation cites the “extreme heat peril” facing Californians over the next few days.

His order comes as Sacramento air quality managers issued their first “Spare the Air” day of the year. The air warning is in effect for Friday in Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer and Yolo counties, among others.

The governor, who is facing a recall election later this year, has been adamant that the lights stay on in 2021 after the power grid was overwhelmed by a heat wave last August, resulting in two nights of rolling blackouts.

The grid manager, the California Independent System Operator, said it didn’t think blackouts would occur Thursday — but PG&E Corp. warned that outages could start at around 7 p.m, affecting as many as 121,000 households and businesses.

The blackouts could affect portions of Placer and Yuba counties, according to officials in both counties.

issued a three-hour Flex Alert that will begin Friday at 6 p.m. The alert represents a plea for voluntary conservation measures, including turning thermostats up to 78 degrees or higher and avoiding using heavy appliances.

Grid officials have said they think the prospects for blackouts this week are unlikely. Still, it’s a measure of the severity of the heat wave that they issued a Flex Alert more than a day before it takes effect. For that matter, the call was issued almost two hours before Thursday night’s Flex Alert began at 5 p.m.

The Thursday alert was set to run through 10 p.m.

Mark Rothleder, the Independent System Operator’s chief operating officer, said grid managers became concerned when the system unexpectedly lost about 1,100 megawatts of production capacity Thursday, including the loss of a natural gas plant he wouldn’t identify. He said the losses were offset partially by 600 megawatts worth of unanticipated supplies, including shipments of electricity from the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water.

“At this point, everything’s looking good,” Rothleder said shortly after the first Flex Alert kicked in at 5 p.m.

Managers of the grid are laboring to prevent a repeat of last August’s blackouts, when 110 degree temperatures rolled through much of the West. Officials with the ISO told reporters late Wednesday that this week’s heat isn’t expected to be as widespread, which should help them keep the lights on.

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Demand was expected to peak Thursday at 42,107 megawatts a little after 6 p.m.

Friday’s anticipated peak demand is a little lighter, at 41,390 megawatts, but “we wanted to be cautious and we wanted to maintain that Flex Alert,” Rothleder said.

State officials believe California is better prepared this year, largely because generators and others are expected to have added 3,500 megawatts of storage and production capacity by August — enough to serve more than 2.6 million homes.

On the other hand, the drought is cutting deeply into California’s hydro power supplies this year, a significant setback.

What happens on the ISO grid doesn’t affect SMUD, which runs independently. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District said it doesn’t expect any blackouts this week. Nonetheless, it’s been urging its customers to conserve electricity.

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