The Fresno Bee
What happened to the rolling blackouts? With temperatures hitting 100 degrees and higher the last three days, Central California braced for the sweaty reality of the state’s electricity crisis.
But nothing. No hand-wringing, no dire message crawling across the television screen. Not even a warning. No one here is complaining, but what gives?
The answer: The rest of the state isn’t using as much electricity because most regions are not sweltering like the Central Valley, says the California Independent System Operator, which keeps power flowing in the state.
“It has been hot in the Central Valley, but the coast, Los Angeles and the Bay Area have not been nearly as warm,” system operator spokesman Gregg Fishman said. “The large, urban areas have not been using as much electricity.”
The eight-county region of Central California has about 3 million residents. Most of the other 30 million California residents are not experiencing 100-degree heat.
At 4 p.m. Wednesday, it was 69 degrees at Los Angeles International Airport and 62 degrees at San Francisco International Airport. At the same hour, it was 99 in Fresno.
Tuesday’s high reading in Fresno was 100. It was the sixth day temperatures hit triple digits, a May record eclipsing the previous mark of five set in 1889.
There are other reasons for optimism this week. Some broken power plant units are back on line, and the weather is supposed to cool down for the weekend. The high temperature in Fresno today is forecast to be 98 degrees and drop into the low 90s over the weekend.
In other words, there’s no reason to panic even though it’s hot in the Central Valley.
But the picture still seems out of kilter to consumer advocates.
Doug Heller of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights said each time the lights have gone out this year, there was some key legislation or important discussion involving money for power generators.
Power-generating corporations many times have said there is no such concerted effort and deny any illegal actions during the crisis.
Heller said he is not accusing power generators of conspiracy — he said he is merely stating what has happened.
“It’s rolling blackmail in California,” Heller said. “In January, the state started purchasing power after the blackouts. In March, the Legislature came up with money for the qualifying facilities after the blackouts. This month, the blackouts came while legislators were debating a $13 billion bond, then the bond passed.”
Heller pointed out there is higher electricity demand now than there was when the rolling blackouts struck two weeks ago.
The system operator’s figures confirm that the peak was 34,469 megawatts two weeks ago and more than 36,000 megawatts Wednesday. Each megawatt can provide enough electricity for about 1,000 homes.
But the system operator said up to 12,000 megawatts of power production was offline on May 8 when the last rolling blackouts were called. This week, about 9,900 megawatts are offline, and officials are having success buying power from other parts of the West.
“There’s not a specific point on the demand side where you start calling rolling blackouts,” Fishman said. “The peak last summer was 45,700 megawatts. If we have the resources, we can meet that demand.”
Fishman said rolling blackouts can occur for a variety of reasons, including the San Joaquin Valley power line bottleneck that sometimes prevents extra electricity from being passed north or south to meet needs.
The public should continue conserving and not let down its guard, he said.
Spokeswoman Christy Dennis of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. agreed:
“This feels a little like Y2K. You kept hearing them talk about these big problems, and then nothing happened. This is more like a lingering Y2K. My fear is that the worst hasn’t happened yet.”