Newsletter: The power crisis

The thermometer at Calvary Church in Woodland Hills registers 106 degrees on Monday.
The thermometer at Calvary Church in Woodland Hills registers 106 degrees on Monday. California is experiencing a record-setting heat wave and the worst energy shortage in decades.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Aug. 18, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Californians looking for a little reprieve from several long months of emergency won’t find it this week. Amid a record-setting heat wave and the worst energy shortage in decades, Gov. Gavin Newsom warned on Monday that intermittent blackouts were likely to afflict the state through Wednesday.

[See also: “California heat wave brings extreme weather and a glimpse at our future with climate change” in the Los Angeles Times]

What are rolling blackouts?

These controlled, rotating shutoffs are typically done in small blocks at a time — think a portion of a community, rather than an entire county, with the utility careful to avoid cutting off power to critical facilities such as hospitals and public safety buildings. The goal is to avoid the longer and more widespread outages than can occur when high demand strains the system, causing equipment failures.


Why are they being implemented?

As my colleague energy reporter Sammy Roth writes, officials at the California Independent System Operator described a “perfect storm” of conditions that caused demand to exceed available supply: scorching temperatures in California and across the western United States, diminished output from renewable and fossil-fueled power plants affected by the weather, and in some cases plants going offline unexpectedly when electricity was needed most. (The California ISO manages the power grid that provides energy to roughly 80% of the state. Several municipal electric utilities operate their own systems, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which has been able to share excess power with the rest of the state.)

[Read the story: “Who’s to blame for California’s rotating blackouts?” in the Los Angeles Times]

But wait, hasn’t California actually had an electricity glut in recent years? Yes, but not all the time. The state’s power system has been in flux as it transitions toward its renewable energy goals.

Here’s how Sammy explains it in his story: “So much solar power is generated during the afternoon that California sometimes pays other states to take its excess supply. But there are fewer gas-fired power plants than in past years to pick up the slack each evening. And coal plants have been shutting down across the West because of competition from cheaper natural gas and renewables, meaning there may be less energy available for California to import in a pinch.” (If you care about climate and energy issues in California and don’t already subscribe to Sammy’s weekly Boiling Point newsletter, I highly recommend signing up.)

In a sharp rebuke issued Monday, California ISO President Stephen Berberich blamed the state’s Public Utilities Commission, saying the state could have been prepared if only the agency had ordered utility companies to line up sufficient power supplies for hot summer evenings.


Where’s the governor in all of this?

During his Monday briefing, Newsom made clear that the buck stops with his office. “We failed to predict and plan these shortages and that’s simply unacceptable,” he said. “I am the governor. I’m ultimately accountable and will ultimately take responsibility — have taken, I assure you, responsibility to immediately address this issue.”

[Read the story: “Rolling blackouts warned to hit millions in California are averted, at least for Monday” in the Los Angeles Times]

The governor signed an emergency declaration aimed at freeing up additional energy but warned that the days ahead will be “very challenging.” He also implored Californians to help conserve energy over the next few days as the wave continues.

The heat wave, which began Friday in California and continues to broil the state and much of West, is expected to continue well into the week. If you need to find a cooling center, here’s a list of resources for counties around the state.


And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

California received a batch of mostly positive pandemic-related developments on Monday with data showing that the number of people dying of COVID-19 is beginning to decline and hospitalization rates continue to fall steadily. Newsom also announced that San Diego County, the state’s second largest, has made enough progress against the novel coronavirus that it could be removed from the watchlist as early as this week. Los Angeles Times

A former official alleges that President Trump sought to withhold California fire aid because of politics: Miles Taylor, the former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security, claims in a political ad that Trump tried to withhold disaster relief money for California’s wildfires because voters in the state opposed him politically. The Department of Homeland Security oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Los Angeles Times

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


Wage theft plagues L.A. garment workers. Why aren’t fashion retailers held responsible? Los Angeles Times

Beekeeping has apparently become the new, hot Hollywood trend: “You can’t believe how much drama goes on in a box of 20,000 mostly female bees. Definitely more intense than most staff meetings.” The Hollywood Reporter


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Comparing President Trump’s and Joe Biden’s vastly different immigration policies: Here’s where both stand on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, refugees, asylum seekers, pathways to citizenship and deportations. Los Angeles Times


Rep. Adam B. Schiff is dramatically increasing his political fundraising in the wake of his high-profile role in Trump’s impeachment trial and ahead of possible vacancies next year in the U.S. Senate and House Democratic leadership — two promotions that could interest the Burbank Democrat. Los Angeles Times

Rep. Adam B. Schiff
Rep. Adam B. Schiff has raised more than $22 million since the beginning of 2019 for his campaign committee and other Democratic groups, including Joe Biden’s presidential race.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

No parties, no commutes — California Democrats reflect on highs and lows of virtual convention. Los Angeles Times

Political battles and confusion reign in Kern County, one of the worst U.S. coronavirus hot spots. The response to the crisis has been hampered by growing battles between state and local officials, with Kern County leaders complaining that they have been stymied by mixed messages and bureaucratic red tape. Los Angeles Times



Health officials have confirmed a case of plague at South Lake Tahoe — the first in California in five years. Los Angeles Times

Temperatures in Death Valley skyrocketed to a blistering 130 degrees — possibly the highest mercury reading on Earth in almost 90 years. Los Angeles Times


“Are you going to Travis Kalanick’s party this weekend?” Inside the luxe quarantine lives of Silicon Valley’s elite. Vanity Fair

The end of an era looms for horse stables near Anaheim’s Honda Center, which are expected to close by 2022. “The fortunes of the equestrian center have been declining since even before the Great Recession of the late 2000s winnowed out the ranks of those who could afford to board and feed a horse or pay for riding lessons.” Orange County Register

This online continuing education program is a “lifeline” for North State seniors stuck at home during the pandemic. Zoom classes through Chico State University are helping local seniors cope. Redding Record Searchlight

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Los Angeles: partly sunny, 94. San Diego: sunny, 82. San Francisco: partly sunny, 75. San Jose: partly sunny, 91. Fresno: sunny, 111. Sacramento: partly sunny, 109. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from David Fowler:

One summer in the 1960s, the family drove from Ukiah to Orange County to visit cousins. One day, surfer cousin Mike, whose vocabulary included “bitchin’ ” and “boss,” offered surf lessons. The next overcast morning we launched out to the waves, where behind me a photographer was snapping away. My tactic to avoid cold water was to push up on the board — not a surfer thing, apparently. I didn’t learn to surf, but a picture showing my “new technique” for paddling into the waves appeared in a surf magazine mailed by my bemused cousin. Bitchin’, huh?

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.