By Emily Hoeven
Californians’ energy conservation efforts and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s emergency proclamation freeing up additional supplies helped the state avoid a Wednesday shortfall that could have resulted in rolling blackouts as an extreme heat wave strained the electric grid, California’s Independent System Operator said Thursday.
But today marks the third straight day of statewide Flex Alerts asking Californians to voluntarily conserve energy from 4 to 9 p.m. And, with temperatures expected to remain 10 to 20 degrees above normal into early next week and more calls for energy conservation expected through Labor Day — in addition to other possible “emergency actions” — the threat is far from over.
Exacerbating the grid’s fragility: raging Southern California wildfires that knocked out transmission lines on Wednesday, resulting in a temporary loss of about 700 megawatts. And more blazes could be on the way: The U.S. Forest Service warned residents Thursday to take precautions during Labor Day weekend — when California’s national forests see the highest number of visitors — by being aware of fire restrictions and being careful with campfires.
- How did California’s wildfires become so unpredictable and extreme? And why do they now pose a risk almost the whole year round? CalMatters’ Julie Cart answers those questions and more in this comprehensive, newly updated explainer.
The prolonged heat wave is a test not only for Newsom — who’s facing reelection in November and is simultaneously working to elevate his national profile — but also for the ambitious climate package he helped push through the state Legislature at the last minute. (The governor on Thursday highlighted state actions to maintain grid reliability, including maximizing electrical generation from hydropower plants and raising thermostat temperatures in state buildings.)
Central to Newsom’s strategy to keeping Californians’ lights on, electric vehicles powered and air conditioners whirring: extending the lifespan of Diablo Canyon, the state’s last nuclear power plant. But, as CalMatters’ Nadia Lopez reports, the clock is ticking: The state has a Sept. 6 deadline to apply for federal funding, a key step in the long and convoluted road to keeping the facility open past its planned 2025 closure.
And, while Newsom’s proposal garnered bipartisan support in the Legislature and the applause of some environmental groups, others weren’t too pleased — and hinted that legal challenges could be on the way.
- Ken Cook, president of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, said in a statement: “The rush by lawmakers and Gov. Newsom to keep Diablo Canyon running is dangerous and dumb and will only set back California’s drive to make solar and wind the prevailing sources of electricity in the state. EWG will explore every opportunity, administratively, legally, and policy-wise, available to prevent the extended operation of Diablo Canyon.”
Other environmental advocates didn’t buy Newsom’s argument that temporarily prolonging Diablo Canyon’s operations would buy the state enough time to develop adequate clean energy to meet demand.
- Alex Jackson, director of American Clean Power-California, said in a statement: “While the package of bills now on their way to the Governor takes some important steps to continue our transition to clean energy sources, they fall well short of what it will take to avoid landing in the same predicament five years from now.”
So what bills are in the package sent to Newsom, and what would they do? Nadia breaks down the significance of the five measures approved by lawmakers — as well as the one ambitious policy that failed to advance to the governor’s desk.