San Francisco prepares for more power outages

San Francisco prepares for more power outages
(Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP, File)

2019 was a pretty rough year for much of California. As you may recall, wildfires were burning up much of the state throughout the summer. At the same time, there were rolling blackouts as the power grid became overwhelmed. The two conditions were linked when it was suggested that outdated power lines and transformers were creating sparks that had ignited some of the fires. And on top of everything else, water shortages were so serious that people were plowing their lawns under and replacing them with rock gardens.

But now that they’ve had a couple of years to address these issues, it should be mostly smooth sailing from here on out, right? Think again. Cal ISO (which oversees the operation of California’s bulk electric power system) is warning residents in the San Francisco Bay area that there will be “flex alerts” coming in the near future. When that happens, people are supposed to turn off their air conditioning and other large appliances to reduce the strain on the power grid. Otherwise, there will be blackouts designed to prevent the entire grid from going down again. Apparently, we haven’t learned anything in the past two years. (CBS San Francisco)

The state’s energy supply is in “good shape” for now, but hotter temperatures and an extensive heat wave could result in flex alerts or planned rotating power outages, a spokesperson for the California Independent System Operator said Monday.

“We are going to be leaning on California consumers, and that will come in the form of a Flex Alert,” said Cal ISO spokesperson Anne Gonzales. “Californians have historically responded very well to our calls for help.”

A heat wave this week in parts of the state is being monitored daily by the agency. If a Flex Alert is called, Californians will be asked to conserve energy — especially reducing the use of large electrical appliances — between the hours of 4 and 9 p.m. That is when the strain on the power grid is expected, typically caused by an increase in the use of air conditioners.

How is this happening again? Everyone saw what happened in 2019 and the situation was correctly described as a crisis. Did you think it was never going to get hot again? Much of California is effectively a desert. There will be dry spells. Further, electrical demand is completely predictable. Any of the major utilities can tell you how much power is needed under virtually any set of conditions. All of this was already known.

If you’re worried about aging power lines starting fires, clear all of the brush under and around the lines. Then work with the utility companies and figure out a way to upgrade and modernize all of the equipment. You should have been doing that years ago, but apparently, the state government was too busy abolishing the police and protecting illegal aliens from deportation to bother.

As for the power grid itself, you don’t have a problem with too many people running their air conditioners when the temperature goes up. You have a problem with not generating enough power on the grid to handle the level of demand. As I already mentioned, you know exactly how much power you’re going to need under periods of peak demand. That’s the amount of power you need to generate. But you’ve been so busy trying to eliminate fossil fuels while flushing money into wind and solar that you didn’t listen to the people telling you that there wouldn’t be enough juice on the grid when the sun goes down.

When the residents of a state elect officials to take charge, those officials are expected to solve problems. What’s been done in the past two years to prepare for this? Back then, everyone was waving their arms around and setting their hair on fire. Then winter rolled around, the temperature dropped and the fires came under control. So did Gavin Newsom and the state legislature simply “move on” to other issues and forget about this?

It’s really difficult to have any sympathy for them at this point. Clearing all of the undergrowth and upgrading the power lines are definitely major challenges. But that’s what leaders are supposed to do… meet and overcome challenges. This isn’t some surprising crisis that nobody could have seen coming. It’s the same set of issues that confounded you multiple times in the past and you don’t seem to be any better prepared to deal with it today than you were then.

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David Strom 6:41 PM on January 26, 2023