(CALMATTERS) – 2020 just keeps getting better.
As many as 2 million Californians experienced one-hour blackouts on Friday and Saturday nights as the state triggered rolling power outages for the first time in nearly two decades amid a record-breaking heat wave. The sky-high temperatures, paired with gusty winds and dry conditions, exacerbated fires across the state, contributed to rare lightning storms and led the National Weather Service to issue a historic warning for a “fire induced tornado” raging through three rural Northern California counties.
- Scott Walker, an El Dorado Hills resident: “I’m just waiting for zombies or meteors or something. … It’s a lot.”
The blackouts represent yet another political hurdle for Gov. Gavin Newsom as he struggles to respond to glitchy state tech systems and get a handle on the crumbling economy even as top staff leave his administration.
The state last instituted rolling blackouts in 2001 — helping cost then-Gov. Gray Davis his job in a recall election.
- Steven Maviglio, Davis’ spokesman during the blackouts: “People expect government to do basic things like keep people healthy and keep the lights on. When that doesn’t happen, leaders get blamed, whether they deserve it or not.”
The California Independent System Operator — which runs the state’s power grid — said the shutoffs were due to heat and two out-of-service power plants.
But the demand for electricity peaked at 46,800 megawatts Friday — less than the record 50,270 in July 2006, during which blackouts were avoided even as 140 Californians died amid the heat.
California relies more heavily on solar power than it did in 2006, which has cut down its fossil fuel consumption but also constrained its ability to produce energy after dark — a problem compounded by inadequate battery storage, experts say.
- Severin Borenstein, a California ISO board member: “We need to phase out fossil fuels but we need to do it in a way that maintains reliability.”
BY EMILY HOEVEN | CALmatters