Extreme heat and a wildfire in Oregon pushed California to the brink of switching off power to thousands of people over the weekend as climate-related disasters affect communities across the parched western United States.
Flames from the Bootleg Fire in Oregon threatened an electricity inner tie that sends power to Northern California, eliminating about 5,500 megawatts of power bound for the Golden State. That's equivalent to the generating capacity of about 10 large natural gas-fired power plants.
The California Independent System Operator, the state's grid manager, warned Saturday that it might fail to maintain its operating reserve of 3,000 MW. It urged residents to limit their use of electricity as a severe heat wave sent temperatures skyrocketing across large portions of the West.
"Many of us are really recognizing now that climate change and these extreme heat waves happening in the earlier parts of the summer now have forced all of us to do things that we really never imagined just a few years ago," ISO President and CEO Elliot Mainzer said during a briefing with reporters. "We've entered this new normal. And now it's really going to take all of us doing our own part during this important clean energy transition to keep the lights on."
It was reminiscent of a sizzling period last summer, when the ISO forced rolling power outages in mid-August as power demand soared during a heat wave. An analysis later blamed the outages on a lack of long-term planning (Energywire, Jan. 14).
Since then, the ISO and the California Public Utilities Commission have been working to boost power supplies. But that comes as the state moves to transform its grid into a delivery network of 100% clean power, with a goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2045.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Saturday signed an executive order suspending certain environmental requirements around power production. It enabled the use of more portable generators and auxiliary ship engines, and he temporarily waived air quality and other restrictions on power generating plants.
It's a difficult start to summer on the West Coast. Record heat blanketed the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia in late June. Temperatures at the time soared to 121 degrees Fahrenheit in Lytton, British Columbia, a village northeast of Vancouver that was burned to the ground by a wildfire days later. Portland, Ore., hit a new record of 116 F two weeks ago, and temperatures at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport soared to 107 F, the highest temperature ever recorded in the area.
Hundreds died from the June heat. The coroner's office in British Columbia said 719 deaths were reported between June 25 and July 1, three times the normal amount. The extreme heat "is a significant contributing factor to the increased number of deaths," Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, said at the time.
Over the weekend, temperatures soared in parts of California and Nevada. Death Valley, Calif., reached 130 degrees Fahrenheit on Friday, matching a high set last August (Climatewire, Aug. 18, 2020).
Before then, such heat had not been seen anywhere in the world since the 1930s.
Blazing hot temperatures are not uncommon for Death Valley, which holds the record for being the hottest place on Earth. It reportedly hit 134 degrees on July 10, 1913. The accuracy of that figure has been disputed, but the World Meteorological Organization "is the steward of the world records, and they've not challenged the 134 F," said Chelsea Peters, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Nevada.
High temperatures broke records in other parts of California over the weekend. Needles, a city near the Mohave Desert, reached 122 F, one degree higher than its hottest-ever reading in 2003.
Las Vegas on Saturday tied an all-time record at 117 degrees. The city has hit that four times previously, most recently in 2017.
High temperatures and the power demands resulting from them are raising concerns early in the summer.
"We ... came into this summer thinking that our issues were primarily going to be associated with August and September," said Mainzer, the ISO official. "And we had the first major ... heat wave four days before the official beginning of summer."
Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2021. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.