California issues rare energy emergency alert due to heat wave


Power grid: Manager says state hit record electricity demand, came close to power outages.

By Caitlin Antonios

The manager of California’s power grid issued a rare energy emergency alert late Tuesday afternoon, an extreme measure that marks the final step before the possibility that rolling power outages might be ordered amid a prolonged heat wave and unprecedented demand for energy.

Jackie Peller reads in the shade in San Clemente on Tuesday as a heat wave continued to hover over Southern California, with temperatures in the 90s in much of Orange County. A strong northern high-pressure system has extended sweltering temperatures through Friday. PAUL BERSEBACH — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Earlier in the day, the California Independent System Operator had issued its seventh consecutive day of Flex Alerts, with warnings from officials that an order to conduct rolling power outages may soon be necessary.

A Flex Alert asks residents to voluntarily limit their energy use from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. in an effort to lessen demand on the grid.

The additional step taken at about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday by the ISO was an Energy Emergency Alert 3, one step away from rotating power outages. Electricity demand hit a peak 52,061 megawatts, an all-time high, the ISO said Tuesday evening.

The alert allows the state to exhaust all energy reserve options before initiating the rotating power outages, or small-scale controlled interruptions in power, in order to maintain reliability of the grid and prevent a cascading blackout, not only in California but in other parts of the West.

Energy consumers would be notified by power providers if rolling outages are necessary, advising consumers of the time and duration of the outage, the ISO said.

The last time rotating outages were used was during a two-day spell in mid-August 2020 when about 800,000 residents were impacted. At that time, such outages hadn’t been ordered in roughly two decades.

Outages can last anywhere between 15 minutes to 2 1/2 hours.

Despite early predictions that the heat wave would peak Sunday or Monday, a strong northern high-pressure system has extended sweltering temperatures through Friday in all regions.

Coastal areas in Orange County and Los Angeles likely will be in the low to mid-90s with little variability. Inland areas will have maximum temperatures in the high-90s to low 100s.

But an end is in sight as a hurricane forming in southern Mexico could bring showers and some relief with cloud cover lessening temperatures. Friday, while temperatures are still expected to be extreme, wind gusts from Hurricane Kay could increase fire dangers with gust predicted between 20 to 40 mph. Flash flooding also could be a concern in the mountains and desert areas.

The extreme heat, coupled with two large wildfires in the area, also led to problems with air quality throughout the region Tuesday, especially in parts of Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued smoke advisories in addition to an ozone advisory for any areas surrounding the fires where smoke can be seen or smelled.

The advisory of excessive heat was issued on Aug. 29, but has been extended through today as forecasters predict things will not begin to significantly cool down until later this week.

Levels of smog, which is the predominant summertime pollutant, are predicted to reach very unhealthy levels in the San Bernardino Valley and mountains in the afternoons with temperatures hitting triple digits. For sensitive groups, air quality will likely be unhealthy inmost inland areas across the region. Sensitive groups include people with heart or lung disease, asthma, pregnant women, children and older adults.

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