Voluntary power cuts helped California avoid blackouts during heat wave – The Washington Post

by | Sep 7, 2022 | Energy

Listen9 minComment on this storyCommentGift ArticleCalifornia’s risk of widespread blackouts this week is forcing millions of residents to keep the grid afloat by jacking up thermostats and shutting off appliances, but they are not the only ones feeling the heat. The lawmakers and regulators behind the state’s emphatic embrace of green energy are feeling it too.Even before this week’s historic September heat wave, the state’s wobbly grid, with a history of disrupting political careers, had become a fresh target for critics of California’s climate-forward energy policies. The same state that is rushing to rid its roads of gas-powered vehicles was pleading with electric car drivers this week not to recharge during peak hours. Meanwhile, aging natural gas-fired generators that California wants to eradicate are being leaned on heavily to keep the lights on. And the state is scrambling to postpone the closure of a nuclear plant that officials earlier said would be made obsolete by sun and wind power.Yet California is redoubling its commitment — arguing that the culprit of its energy woes is not the aggressive pace of its transition but the climate change that transition is designed to confront.Advertisement“We understand we cannot have the lights go off,” said Siva Gunda, vice chair of the California Energy Commission. “But the fear of these questions being brought up is not a reason to slow down from what we know is morally and societally what we need to do.”Millions of Californians received alerts on their cellphones this week warning that the grid was in peril and “power interruptions may occur unless you take action.” The phone alerts were credited with averting blackouts on Tuesday, as power use dropped substantially minutes after they were sent. The grid was expected to face more stressful moments this week as the heat wave persists in parts of the state, but the pressure on the grid was expected to be less after Tuesday.Historic, unforgiving Western heat wave is peaking and crushing recordsCalifornians pulled a record amount of energy from the grid Tuesday, as the punishing heat wave pushed air-conditioning use far beyond the levels regulators had forecast. Modeling by the Energy Commission had suggested there was only a 1 percent chance of the kind of heat the state is experiencing this week.AdvertisementSome Californians are grappling with the question of whether these power disruptions are a temporary blip as the state meets the challenge of extreme temperatures, or the new normal.“I don’t remember this many days this hot in a row,” said David Plenn, 70, longtime owner of the Dinosaur Farm toy store in South Pasadena. Contemplating what’s coming, Plenn said: “Now we’ve got all e-cars, the grid is not holding. … Someone better be working on that.”Californians have long been among the earliest adopters of climate-friendly technologies: Nearly half of the country’s electric cars are registered in the state, and it is moving to phase out new gas-powered cars by 2035. Just last week, the legislature passed a flurry of bills aimed at making the state carbon neutral by 2045. When the state asked residents to reduce their electricity use Tuesday afternoon, they heeded the call.AdvertisementMichele Ost, a 28-year-old student who lives in the town of Monterey Park east of downtown Los Angeles, said she and her three roommates aren’t in control of the AC in their condo — their landlord is — but decided to do what they could to conserve energy by doing all their laundry in the morning.The heat “is definitely something that’s getting worse,” said Ost, keeping cool at a coffee shop. “It’s hard to ignore global warming.”Michelle Round, owner of the Heatherbloom clothing store in tony San Marino, was getting her fall merchandise in — sweaters and coats — even as the sidewalks outside broiled in 100-degree-plus temps.Round said that in the past she has cranked up the air conditioning to create “sweater weather” and sell her fall products — but “I wouldn’t do that now.” Instead, she set the thermostat to 78 degrees, as recommended by state officials.AdvertisementDespite the buy-in, continued disruption of the power grid threatens to weaken public enthusiasm for such measures. Replacing natural gas-fueled plants with less consistent wind and solar energy is a balancing act, and even some leaders of that transition say lawmakers and regulators have at times allowed their policy ambitions to cloud their judgment.The price of renewable energy installations has also gone sharply up as developers struggle with supply chain disruptions and a trade dispute that hobbled the sale of solar panels for months.“C …

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