For the first time since 2001, the California Independent System Operator (ISO) issued rolling blackouts across the state Friday night, affecting some 220,00 PG&E customers — with San Rafael and Santa Rosa among the hardest hit with nearly 100,000 customer outages reported, collectively.
It's been widely known for quite some time that California's energy grid is grossly antiquated and unable to cope with the state's growing energy demands. Case and point: the scheduled blackouts that affected millions of PG&E account holders in October of 2019. And with temperatures continuing to rise — locally, nationally, globally — as the planet warms, otherwise temperate areas in the state are taxing California's already strained electricity grid right to the point of breaking.
PG&E Completes Rotating Power Outages Conducted at Direction of State Grid Operator - Power Restored to Essentially All Impacted Customers - Tonight’s Rotating Outages Were Not a Public Safety Power Shutoff https://t.co/wmB6L7S9M8 pic.twitter.com/GniABVVO6d— PG&E (@PGE4Me) August 15, 2020
Alas, in an attempt to preserve the stability of California's grid system — which provides power for millions of residents and businesses — the state's grid managers chose to cut power to over 200,000 PG&E customers Friday night to prevent an electricity crisis.
According to the Chronicle, the last time grid managers implemented this kind of power cut was nearly two decades ago in 2001 when the state was dealing with an unprecedented electricity emergency. (The prior utility disaster in California led to a power supply shortage caused by market manipulations and capped retail electricity prices — and created regular prolonged blackouts across the state that affected hundreds of thousands of people from January to May of that year.)
This most recent series of rolling blackouts was observed across Northern California when IOS began shutting off power to large segments of PG&E customers for up to an hour at a time. Per the KPIX, the utility company stated each “rotating block of blackouts” would affect up to 250,000 customers as the grid operator went into a "Stage 3 Emergency" due to the electricity demand during Friday's extreme heat.
“Power that had been disrupted as part of the emergency has been restored statewide,” the California ISO said in a statement published by the news outlet. “The grid operator went into Stage 3 Emergency at 6:36 p.m., ordering utilities to implement rotating power outages to protect the stability of the grid. By 7:51 p.m., the grid had stabilized, and utilities began restoring 1,000 megawatts of electricity that had been taken out of service."
Nearby areas around San Rafael were most affected with nearly 50,000 PG&E customers citing outages; Santa Rosa saw a similar number of customers facing blackouts and another outage in San Mateo left 35,000 customers in the dark.
We've restored nearly 200K w/ the rest expected by 11 PM. Thank you for your patience. Earlier tonight PG&E initiated rotating outages at the request of CA's Grid Operator impacting approx. 220K customer accounts. There are no more outages of this type planned for this eve.— PG&E (@PGE4Me) August 15, 2020
PG&E said it would stop rolling more blackouts around 9 p.m. Friday evening and that crews would begin restoring power to the affected regions; most of those affected by the outages likely had their power restored by 11 p.m. yesterday, according to the utility company.
Though other cities in the Bay Area — San Francisco, San Jose, and Vallejo — also reported notable outages, it's not clear if they were all related to the power cuts implemented by the California ISO.
Nevertheless, IOS managers may issue additional requests to lower electrical usage (that may lead to more rolling blackouts) as the heat wave continues this weekend and well into next week.
IOS is still recommending people turn off unnecessary lights and other electrical devices, as well as set air conditioners to no lower than 78 degrees if possible to help both save electricity and mitigate the chance of more sweeping power outages.
With the current record-breaking heat wave set to stick around the Bay Area until at least Wednesday of next week, only time will tell if we'll be subjected to additional impromptu outages.
Image: PG&E Substation C in Oakland, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons via Johan Jönsson