California's Having Rolling Blackouts Because It's Just So Damn Hot

Illustration for article titled Californias Having Rolling Blackouts Because Its Just So Damn Hot
Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

Hundreds of thousands of Californians were left in the dark Friday evening after triple-digit temperatures drove up power demands, leading grid operators to declare a statewide Stage 3 emergency for the first time in nearly two decades.

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With scores of people cranking up the AC to stay cool, electricity usage overwhelmed existing supply, prompting the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s grid system, to initiate rolling blackouts. The corporation told the Los Angeles Times that 1,000 megawatts of electricity were taken out of service on Friday.

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California’s largest utility provider, Pacific Gas & Electric, said in a press release that 220,000 of its customers in El Dorado, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, and Sonoma counties lost power for several hours. Another leading provider, Southern California Edison, shut off power to roughly 132,000 customers throughout the region, company spokesman David Song told the Times.

The emergency order has since been rescinded, the California Independent System Operator said in a tweet shortly after midnight, but officials warn that there may be additional outages in the coming days as the sweltering heat wave blanketing much of the West Coast is expected to continue into the start of next week. Several areas there are expected to see record-breaking maximum and minimum temperatures, with highs above 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius) possible, according to forecasts from The National Weather Service. The service issued an excessive heat warning for Friday through Tuesday along with air quality warnings prompted by the combination of heat and wildfire erupting in the Angeles National Forest earlier this week.

“Extreme heat is really the driver behind this,” Anne Gonzales, spokesperson for the California Independent System Operator, told the Washington Post. “We’re dealing with weather, clouds, wildfires... these are quickly evolving situations, quickly changing.”

This heat wave—predicted to be one of the worst the region’s seen in more than a decade—and rolling blackouts are hitting at a particularly vulnerable time as the covid-19 pandemic has many people under lockdown inside their homes. Going to the mall or catching a movie (remember when we could do that?) are no longer viable options for folks trying to stay cool, which leaves people especially dependent on their home air conditioning systems to keep from melting in this heat. So, again, this is my polite but firm request to the powers that be for 2020 to literally chill for just, like, five minutes.

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Gizmodo weekend editor. Freelance games reporter. Full-time disaster bi.

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DISCUSSION

The heat is certainly at issue, but I’ll tell you what’s really interesting. PG&E cuts off power to the hottest areas of the state. But SMUD, surrounded by PG&E at every border of its territory, at the center of the heat wave, didn’t deny service to anyone.

Nope, only customers of investor owned utilities lost power. You remove profit from the picture, and service is a lot easier to deliver.

With PG&E in bankruptcy there will be no better opportunity for the state to use its power of eminent domain to seize all of their assets.