A Fresno resident uses an umbrella to shield herself from the sun on Aug. 30, 2022, as a heat wave descended over California. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

(CALMATTERS) – Today, California’s power grid is poised to face its biggest test of the summer so far as a record-setting heat wave continues to boil the drought-parched, fire-stricken state.

As residents crank up their air conditioners to deal with yet another day of triple-digit temperatures, peak demand could shoot past 51,000 megawatts — surpassing the record of 50,270 megawatts set in 2006, the state’s electric grid operator said Monday.

And, unless Californians double or triple their current conservation efforts, the state’s energy supply could fall between 400 and 3,400 megawatts short of demand between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., resulting in a repeat of 2020’s rolling blackouts, warned Elliot Mainzer, president and CEO of the California Independent System Operator. (The state also risked possible power shutoffs Monday evening, but ultimately avoided them.)

Today marks the seventh straight day that Californians have been under a statewide Flex Alert, which calls for voluntary energy conservation between 5 and 9 p.m. The timeframe was extended to 10 p.m. on Monday.

The grid operator also declared a Stage 1 energy emergency alert for Monday and today, which signals that all resources have already been committed or are expected to be used and that deficiencies are forecasted. Stage 2, which was implemented Monday evening, triggers additional urgency measures — such as activating emergency gas generators — and Stage 3 could mean rolling blackouts.

Newsom — whose administration has been calling big commercial firms and asking them to limit their energy use, according to the Sacramento Bee — on Friday expanded the emergency order he issued last week to help free up additional supplies. This angered some environmental justice advocates, who argued that some of its provisions — including allowing for expanded use of backup generators — would disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities.

  • Olivia Seideman, climate policy coordinator at Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, said in a statement: “It is unconscionable to continue making over-polluted and under-resourced communities sacrifice zones for the rest of the State.”

Newsom on Friday also proclaimed a state of emergency in Siskiyou County, which is dealing with an onslaught of wildfires, including the Mountain Fire and the Mill Fire. As of Sunday morning, the Mill Fire had burned more than 4,000 acres, killed at least two people and injured at least three others, according to state fire officials. The fire prompted thousands of evacuations and destroyed or damaged more than 100 structures — including the historically Black community of Lincoln Heights in the town of Weed.

The confluence of crises comes as California prepares to lose its director of emergency response: Newsom announced Friday that Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, will retire at the end of the year after a decade on the job, making him the latest high-ranking official to leave the governor’s administration.

  • Newsom said in a statement“Mark has expertly guided our state through some of the most complex and challenging disaster conditions in the nation — coordinating California’s emergency response to unprecedented wildfires, severe drought, earthquakes and cybersecurity threats, as well as our nation-leading efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • Ghilarducci told the Los Angeles Times“I’ve seen so much, from terrorism, from natural disasters, from human-caused disasters, technological disasters. Lives ripped apart. Sadness. I’ve also seen the best come out of that. As much as we are thinking that we’re at each other’s throats … I’ve seen people come together, people who have lost everything still stepping forward to help other people who have lost everything.”