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California Grid Pressured By Heat Wave, Oregon Wildfire That Threatens Transmission Lines

July 12, 2021

by Paul Ciampoli
APPA News Director
July 12, 2021

A rapidly growing wildfire in Southern Oregon that threatened transmission lines used to import energy to California, along with continued extreme heat throughout California, put new stresses on the electric grid, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) reported over the weekend.

CAISO on Saturday, July 10, extended a statewide Flex Alert for a second consecutive day and strongly encouraged consumers to conserve as much electricity as possible from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. to help keep the grid stable.

Conditions on the electric grid were already a challenge Friday, July 9, when much of California was experiencing triple-digit temperatures, some generating capacity was not available and a Flex Alert was called for the late afternoon and evening, the grid operator noted.

ISO data show demand for electricity did start to drop once Friday’s Flex Alert was in effect and consumer conservation began to take hold. But conditions deteriorated quickly as the Bootleg Fire continued to grow and posed an imminent threat to transmission lines leading into the California Oregon Intertie (COI).

The COI is not only used to import electricity from the Pacific Northwest to the electric grid managed by the ISO, it also imports power into other grid balancing authorities and the state of Nevada, the grid operator noted.

“The fire has been a wildcard for grid operators since it began Tuesday in rural Klamath County reportedly from a lightning strike. The wind-driven blaze, which has forced evacuations and is not projected to be contained for another two weeks, had burned a little less than 40,000 acres by Friday, nearly doubling in size from the day before,” CAISO said.

By Saturday morning, it had nearly doubled in size again and burned more than 76,000 acres.

On Friday afternoon, the ISO issued a formal grid warning, which gives the grid operator authority to initiative emergency demand response programs that compensate electricity customers for conserving. That warning was canceled at 10 p.m. Friday, about the time demand for electricity is typically low.

On Sunday, July 11, CAISO said that with electric transmission lines from Oregon still unreliable due to the Bootleg Fire and continued high temperatures across the West resulting in increased demand for electricity, it was issuing a statewide Flex Alert for Monday, July 12 to help stabilize the state’s electric grid and deal with uncertainty created by the extraordinary conditions. Consumers were also strongly encouraged to continue to conserve as much electricity as possible between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m.

In addition, the ISO issued a Restricted Maintenance Operations for Monday that requires generators to postpone any planned outages for routine equipment maintenance, ensuring that all available resources can be dispatched to the grid.

The fast-moving Bootleg Fire tripped off transmission lines on Friday and again Saturday, limiting electricity flow from the Pacific Northwest to California and other states. Power supplies to the California ISO service territory, which covers about 80 percent of the state, have been reduced by as much as 3,500 megawatts because of the fire.

California governor signs order to free up additional energy capacity

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday, July 10, signed an executive order to free up additional energy capacity.

Building on Newsom’s emergency proclamation on July 9 which suspended certain permitting requirements to enable the use of back-up power generation, the July 10 order allows the emergency use of auxiliary ship engines to relieve pressure on the electric grid.

Public power plays its part to help alleviate stress on grid

Meanwhile, public power utilities in the state have been proactively working to help alleviate stress on the grid by reminding customers of the ways in which they can help.

For example, in a Saturday night tweet, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) said that “Every bit of energy conservation will help the state power grid right now. A statewide #FlexAlert is in effect until 9 pm tonight. Hold off on the laundry for a bit longer, set AC thermostats to 78 and turn off unnecessary lights and appliances. Thanks LA!”

For its part, SMUD in a tweet said it was asking customers to limit electricity usage in the afternoon of Saturday, July 10, and through the weekend. “The Bootleg Fire in Oregon is impacting critical transmission lines and has reduced imported energy. We’ll use every measure to keep the lights on, but power shortfalls are possible,” SMUD said.

The public power utility said that customers can help by doing the following:

  • Raise thermostats to 80° or higher;
  • Limit use of appliances from 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.; and
  • Limit use of both hot and cold water

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