By Emily Hoeven
California teetered on the edge of rolling blackouts Tuesday, as the state entered the most sweltering stretch of a heat wave that Gov. Gavin Newsom described in a video message as “the hottest and the longest on record for this state and many parts of the West for the month of September.”
As high-temperature records fell across the state — downtown Sacramento reached 116 degrees, surpassing the previous record of 114 degrees set in 1925 — it was clear that state officials were pulling out all the stops to avoid another round of power outages just two years after California experienced its first in nearly two decades.
The persistent drumbeat of warnings and pleas for residents to save energy hinted at the stark political, economic and health repercussions of air conditioners, refrigerators, lights and medical devices abruptly turning off.
Among the measures taken Tuesday:
California’s grid operator declared a Stage 3 emergency, clearing the way for it to order rotating power outages if necessary, but ended it at 8 p.m. The California Independent System Operator credited consumer conservation for helping avoid temporary outages even as peak demand surpassed 52,000 megawatts, breaking the record of 50,270 megawatts set in 2006. Today, the state will spend its eighth straight day under a Flex Alert asking residents to conserve energy between 4 and 9 p.m. “If we keep it up we can get through this unprecedented heatwave,” Newsom tweeted Tuesday night.
The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services sent out a blaring emergency alert urging residents to turn off nonessential power until 9 p.m. if their heath allowed, warning, “Power interruptions may occur unless you take action.”
In addition to Newsom personally exhorting Californians to conserve energy by pre-cooling their homes and avoiding the late-afternoon use of large appliances, the governor extended for the third time provisions of his earlier emergency proclamation and executive order to free up additional power, increase energy production and expand flexibility for state agencies, energy users and utilities. Many state buildings switched off lights and raised thermostat temperatures at 4 p.m. to save energy.
Newsom signed a bill requiring counties to ensure that local community centers are prepared to help all residents during extreme heat events and other environmental disasters and that those centers are incorporated in local emergency plans. He also signed a pile of legislation and budget trailer bills, including several dealing with energy, drought and wildfires.
Many Republican lawmakers tied the looming threat of blackouts to “a failed energy policy championed by the Democrat super-majority in Sacramento,” as Assembly GOP Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City put it. “It’s rich to watch them now scramble to keep the lights on by firing up brand-new natural gas plants and extending the life of California’s only remaining nuclear power plant, which they previously advocated for closing,” Gallagher said in a statement. “This crisis was both avoidable and predictable.”