(The Center Square) – State energy regulators told state lawmakers this week at an oversight hearing that they are better prepared to handle rolling blackouts this coming summer despite facing an historic drought, expected high temperatures and worsening wildfires projected by Cal Fire.
Officials said the state’s power grid is vulnerable to extreme heat waves that could force more outages later this year, but they’ve acquired an additional 3,500 megawatts of capacity, including an additional 2,000 megawatts of batteries. One megawatt of energy is enough to power hundreds of homes, officials say.
“Does that mean we are in the clear? Not necessarily,” Elliot Mainzer, president and CEO of the California Independent Systems Operator, told lawmakers. “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.”
Rolling blackouts have historically been used in California to prevent wildfires, but those that occurred last August were the result of an energy shortage, the first the state experienced in 20 years.
Last August, demand for energy was so high that state regulators ordered utility companies to turn off the power for many residents and Newsom declared a state emergency.
Newsom acknowledged last year that, "Residents, communities and other governmental organizations did not receive sufficient warning that these de-energizations could occur. Collectively, energy regulators failed to anticipate this event and to take necessary actions to ensure reliable power to Californians. This cannot stand. California residents and businesses deserve better from their government.”
In 2003, former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was removed from office in a recall election by voters primarily outraged over his handling of rolling blackouts.
This year, Newsom is also facing a recall, this time by voters frustrated by a range of issues including COVID-19 restrictions and last summer’s blackouts.
Part of the state’s plan to avoid blackouts includes buying energy from places “that are not clean resources," Marybel Batjer, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, told lawmakers. Batjer didn’t say what these sources are, and notably did not say the sources were wind or solar, which are touted as clean, green energy.
She said regulators bought the energy sources (likely coal, oil or gas or a combination of the three), to prevent blackouts from occurring this summer out of “health and safety concerns.”
Despite the fact that these sources are not renewables, Batjer emphasized, “I want to be clear that our planning and implementation of our clean energy future progresses forward and will only accelerate in the months and years to come.”
Newsom’s California Comeback Plan includes $3.2 billion dedicated to accelerate the state’s zero-emission vehicle goals, and $1.3 billion “to prepare for extreme heat, sea level rise and environmental justice priorities like oil well capping, toxic site clean-up and pollution control.”