SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California regulators say the state is unlikely to experience power shortages this summer after securing new sources of power and a wet winter that filled the state’s reservoirs enough to to restart hydroelectric power plants that were idle during the drought.
The nation’s most populous state typically has more than enough electricity to power the homes and businesses of more than 39 million people. But the power grid has problems when it’s really hot and everyone turns on their air conditioners at the same time.
It was so hot in August 2020 that California’s power grid was overwhelmed, prompting the state’s three largest utilities to shut off power to hundreds of thousands of homes for just a few hours on two straight days. Similar heat waves in 2021 and 2022 brought the state to the brink again. State officials prevented blackouts by encouraging people to save energy and taking advantage of some gas-fired emergency generators.
The state’s power grid was strained in part by a severe drought that left reservoirs at dangerously low levels, leaving little water available to pass through hydroelectric power plants. The water level in Lake Oroville dropped so low in 2021 that state officials had to shut down a hydroelectric power plant that was capable of powering 80,000 homes.
That won’t be a problem this year after winter storms dumped copious amounts of rain and snow on the state. In addition, an additional 8,594 megawatts of wind, solar and battery storage power will be online by September 1, according to Neil Millar, vice president of Transmission Planning and Infrastructure Development for the Independent System Operator of California.
One megawatt of electricity is enough to power about 750 homes.
“I am relieved to say that we are in a much better position than we were in 2022,” said Siva Gunda, vice president of the California Energy Commission.
The struggle to power the state during severe heat waves has been a problem for Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has aggressively moved the state away from fossil fuels. California gets much of its energy now from sources like wind and solar. But those power sources are not always available.
To prevent blackouts during heat waves, Newsom and the state Legislature spent $3.3 billion to create a “strategic reliability reserve.” Last September, when a severe heat wave pushed the state’s demand for electricity to an all-time high, this reserve generated as much as 1,416 megawatts of power.
On Thursday, Newsom was scheduled to update his plan to move the state away from fossil fuels and “outline a plan to achieve California’s ambitious climate goals,” according to a news release from the governor’s office.
While officials say the state must avoid critical power shortages, they warn that the weather could change things. Wildfires are also a threat to bring down key power transmission lines. Those things could still trigger a “flex alert” warning people to conserve energy.
“I would say that people shouldn’t be surprised to see a flexible alert,” said Alice Reynolds, president of the California Public Utilities Commission. “I mean, we’re talking about extreme heat, unusual events that are difficult to deal with.”
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