California declares grid emergency, warning of blackouts

It's the biggest test for California's grid since the summer of 2020, when rolling outages engulfed portions of the state. PHOTO: AFP

SAN FRANCISCO - California officials declared a statewide grid emergency to cope with surging demand for power amid a blistering heatwave, raising the prospect of rolling blackouts.

The California Independent System Operator issued a level-1 energy emergency alert shortly after 3.10pm local time (6.10am Thursday Singapore time) after tapping all its available power supplies. The notice, which comes after officials asked homes and businesses to conserve, is a warning that the state is anticipating power shortages.

It's the biggest test for California's grid since the summer of 2020, when rolling outages engulfed portions of the state.

It comes as Russia's war in Ukraine triggers an energy crisis in Europe and as record temperatures driven by climate change tax grids around the globe.

"It's pretty clear Mother Nature has outrun us," California Governor Gavin Newsom, who issued an executive order on Wednesday to free up emergency power supplies, said during a news conference. "The reality is we're living in an age of extremes - extreme heat, extreme drought."

The worst dry spell in 1,200 years has gripped nearly every inch of California with drought this summer, leaving rivers and reservoirs perilously low.

That has significant implications for a state that generates about 10 per cent of its electricity from hydroelectric dams and has aggressively closed natural-gas power plants in recent years.

Officials asked residents to conserve power on Wednesday between 4pm and 9pm local time as temperatures soar above 38 degrees Celsius.

California's electricity demand is forecast to build over the next week and top 48 gigawatts on Monday and Tuesday, which would be the highest demand on the state grid since 2017, according to grid operator, known as Caiso. Officials are projecting a shortfall of contracted reserves - excess supplies kept on hand as backup to prevent blackouts- during some of the tightest hours starting on Wednesday night.

"We're seeing some supply uncertainties for later in the day, so we're asking consumers to help stabilise the grid by conserving electricity," Caiso spokeswoman Anne Gonzales said in an email.

The call for conservation comes hours before state lawmakers are expected to decide the fate of the state's largest power-generating facility: the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.

The two atomic reactors - the last remaining ones in the state - are scheduled to close by the end of 2025.

But Newsom is pushing legislators to extend their lives by five years to shore up the grid against blackouts as the state transitions to renewable energy. BLOOMBERG

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.