As extreme heat strains California’s energy grid, flex alert issued

A Pacific Gas & Electric Co. worker clears a power line blocking a roadway in unincorporated Napa County on Aug. 20.
(Noah Berger / Associated Press)

With unseasonably warm weather again baking California, officials are urging residents to conserve energy to reduce strain on the state’s electrical system.

The California Independent System Operator, which runs the electric grid for most of the state, has issued a new statewide flex alert, calling on Californians to cut back their energy consumption from 3 to 10 p.m. Thursday.

“With high temperatures in the forecast, the power grid operator predicts an increase in electricity demand, primarily from air conditioning use,” officials wrote in a statement. “The temperatures are above normal for this time of year, creating an anticipated shortage in energy supply in the late afternoon hours through the evening.”


Conservation is particularly important during that period, officials said, because that’s when the grid is socked with the one-two punch of increased demand and shrinking solar energy production.

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Officials are asking consumers to set thermostats at 78 degrees or higher while the flex alert is active, and to turn off unnecessary lights and hold off on using major appliances such as dishwashers or laundry machines until after 10 p.m.

California is in the midst of a heat wave that has brought record-breaking temperatures to some areas. The hot spell, which has boosted the mercury 10 to 20 degrees above normal across a swath of the state, is expected to linger through Friday evening.

Given the combination of heat, parched vegetation and fall winds, forecasters are warning that conditions are ripe for wildfires.

The National Weather Service has issued a fire weather watch in addition to a heat advisory for parts of Southern California.

Oct. 15, 2020


The National Weather Service has issued a fire weather watch covering the Santa Clarita Valley, Los Angeles and Ventura county mountains, mountains and coastal slopes of the San Bernardino and Santa Ana ranges, as well as areas of the Inland Empire below the Cajon Pass.

A red flag warning — indicating critical fire weather conditions — is also in place across much of Northern California through Friday morning. The region could see winds of 15 to 25 mph, with gusts up to 40 mph.

In light of the forecast and fire danger, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. began turning off power to more than 50,000 Northern California customers Wednesday evening.

The shutoffs affected portions of nearly two dozen counties, mostly in the Sierras and San Francisco Bay Area, and could last 48 hours, the utility said.

A second shutoff for around 700 customers was expected Thursday afternoon in far northern counties as winds were expected to arrive there.

PG&E announced parts of 24 counties would be affected by the power shut-offs, which are a preemptive measure ahead of an expected three-day wind event.

Oct. 14, 2020

Preemptive electricity cuts are a strategy aimed at preventing fires from being started by power lines that have been damaged or knocked down amid high winds. PG&E equipment sparked several massive blazes that destroyed tens of thousands of homes and killed more than 100 people since 2017.

“Once the weather subsides on Friday morning, PG&E will patrol and inspect the de-energized lines to ensure they were not damaged during the wind event and repair any damage found,” utility officials wrote in a statement. “PG&E will then safely restore power in stages and as quickly as possible, with the goal of restoring power to nearly all customers within 12 daylight hours after severe weather has passed.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.