California power grid operator braces for heat wave, Newsom calls state of emergency

Staff and wire reports

LOS ANGELES — Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency and operators of California’s power grid called for statewide voluntary conservation of electricity Wednesday as a heat wave spread over the West and they warned that there could be energy shortages if conditions worsen.

The call for conservation between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. came as excessive-heat warnings expanded to all of Southern California and up into the Central Valley, and were predicted to spread into Northern California later in the week.

The California Independent System Operator said in issuing the “Flex Alert” that high temperatures were pushing up energy demand, primarily from air conditioning use, and tightening available power supplies.

“Additional Flex Alerts are also possible through the Labor Day weekend as record-setting temperatures are forecast across much of the West,” Cal ISO said.

“This is just the latest reminder of how real the climate crisis is, and how it is impacting the everyday lives of Californians,” Newsom said in a statement. “While we are taking steps to get us through the immediate crisis, this reinforces the need for urgent action to end our dependence on fossil fuels that are destroying our climate and making these heat waves hotter and more common.” 

A woman walks with a beach umbrella in Los Angeles, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. Excessive-heat warnings expanded to all of Southern California and northward into the Central Valley on Wednesday, and were predicted to spread into Northern California later in the week.

Flex alerts call for reduced energy use

The grid operator had said Tuesday that the need for voluntary conservation would be likely through the holiday weekend. It said it was taking measures to bring all available energy resources online, including issuing an order restricting maintenance from noon to 10 p.m. daily through Sept. 6.

The peak load for electricity demand in California is projected to exceed 48,000 megawatts on Monday, the highest of the year, the grid operator said.

Forecasters:Incoming heat wave could be California's hottest and longest this year

The afternoon and evening time period for voluntary conservation is when there is most stress on the grid and solar energy production is declining. The primary ways to reduce household energy use are to raise thermostat temperatures, avoid using major appliances and electric car chargers, and turning off lights.

“If weather or grid conditions worsen, the ISO may issue a series of emergency notifications to access additional resources and prepare market participants and the public for potential energy shortages and the need to conserve,” Cal ISO said Tuesday.

The heat wave arrived amid concern about California’s power grid. In August 2020, a record heat wave caused a surge in power use for air conditioning that overtaxed the grid. That caused two consecutive nights of rolling blackouts, affecting hundreds of thousands of residential and business customers.

Newsom has proposed extending the life of the state’s last operating nuclear power plant by five years to maintain reliable power supplies in the climate change era. The proposal would keep Pacific Gas & Electric’s Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant running beyond a scheduled closing by 2025.

Gov. Gavin Newsom addresses the heat wave expected to impact California and the West starting today and lasting through Labor Day weekend until next Wednesday.

Weather hacks:PG&E offers energy saving tips for extreme California heat

Newsom addressed the heat wave in a live news conference Wednesday afternoon and discussed ways Californians can stay safe from extreme heat, the strain the extreme weather will place on the grid, and state actions to respond to the immediate emergency and accelerate the state’s transition away from fossil fuels that worsen extreme heat.

He said he also signed an executive order that will allow the state to procure more electricity supply in anticipation of stress on the power grid.

Forecasters, meanwhile, warned of triple-digit temperatures with little overnight relief, as well as elevated risk of wildfires in much of the West.

“The big weather story this week will be a prolonged and possibly record heat wave building across much of the Western U.S. associated with a strong upper level ridge,” the National Weather Service wrote. 

Where to go for help

“Extreme heat especially endangers workers, children, seniors, historically underserved and overburdened communities, and people with underlying health conditions,” the statement from Newsom’s office said.

More information about workers’ rights and resources for workers can be found online here and here. Resources for Californians facing extreme heat, including safety tips and other information, can be found here. A map of cooling centers is available here

Severe heat is dangerous to everyone and can be fatal, especially when temperature extremes last more than a couple of days, the governor’s office warned. Factors that increase risk include advanced age, chronic and severe illness, and environmental overexposure (e.g. certain jobs or homelessness). If you care for someone at increased risk:

  • Keep in regular contact with that person, ensure they can access air conditioned buildings (e.g. cooling centers, public buildings), and keep hydrated
  • Watch out for heat-related illnesses, especially heat stroke, and call 911 if needed
  • Wear lightweight, light colored, loose-fitting clothing. Wear sunscreen. Try to be less active during the hottest part of the day. Rest often and pace yourself
  • Don’t forget to protect your pets from the heat, and never leave a child or pet in the car, even if the windows are partially open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.