Grid Operators Urge Residents to Conserve Power Ahead of Major Heatwave

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

A record-setting heatwave is brewing across much of the West, threatening to worsen the already dire drought conditions and push electric grids to the brink.

California’s power grid operator is urging residents to conserve power in response to the heatwave. The California Independent System Operator is trying to avoid implementing rolling blackouts, which, during a heatwave, last August, left 800,000 homes without power for 2.5 hours at a time. Yesterday, Texas grid operator ERCOT asked its customers to take similar precautions, spreading fear of another mass blackout after February’s devastating freeze

Residents across the West are worried about spikes in cost for their power in addition to the health risks that the coming extreme heat will bring.

Why This Matters: The U.S. power grid needs an upgrade. President Biden has prioritized upgrading it as a part of a rapid move to green energy sources like offshore wind. 

  • In February, the Texas power grid was criticized for being over-reliant on fossil fuels after it buckled under the pressure of a deep freeze, leaving 14 million residents without power.

But heat also threatens lives during power grid failures, and it’s only getting hotter. Each year, 12,000 Americans are killed by heat, and blackouts are becoming more frequent, doubling from 2015 to 2020. In California, which is already conserving water, residents, especially BIPOC Californians, may soon find themselves in heat islands with no way to beat the heat.

Power Up: As CNN reported,

  • At least 12 states are included in a heat-related advisory, watch or warning as triple-digit temperatures threaten to surpass previous records from California to the Northern Rockies.
  • Excessive heat warnings are in effect for as far north as Montana.
  • The National Weather Service (NWS) in Billings is forecasting highs Monday and Tuesday to surpass 100 degrees and shatter all-time records set as early as 1918 in Sheridan.

Temperatures are expected to hit the low 90s in Los Angeles from Monday to Wednesday, 20 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the average June temperature. To avoid a repeat of last August, power providers have added 3,500 megawatts of capacity, including 2,000 megawatts of 4-hour lithium-ion batteries, enough to power thousands of homes.

“Does that mean we are in the clear? Not necessarily,” said Elliot Mainzer, the president and CEO of the California Independent System Operator, at an oversight hearing. “The most significant risk factor for grid reliability remains extreme heat, particularly heat that spreads across the wider Western United States. And it continues to get hotter every year.”

The group is encouraging residents to conserve power to avoid blackouts and avoid skyrocketing energy prices.

  • On Friday, electricity prices in Arizona jumped to $151 per megawatt-hour, and prices in Southern California reached $95.

Officials and environmental advocates hope to solve all these woes with a silver bullet: 100% clean energy by 2045. About 60% of the state’s energy is carbon-free, and while that bodes well for its carbon goals, some worry that the aging power grid isn’t ready for the transition.

We’re asking people to electrify their homes, electrify their ports, electrify industry,” said Robert Foster, former president of Southern California Edison. “You plug a modern electric vehicle in your home; it’s like adding an additional house in terms of the load on the system.”

Nevertheless, experts agree that shifting to clean energy is the best way to ensure affordable, reliable power for Californians and residents across the western U.S. “Achieving 100 percent clean electricity by 2045 is not only a bold pursuit but a wise one,” said Marybel Batjer, president of the California Public Utility Commission. “Such action is required to avoid the worst impacts and costs of climate change and to ensure the delivery of safe, affordable, reliable and clean power to all Californians.

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