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WAPA, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation tapped hydro to help response to Calif. energy emergency

August 26, 2020

by Paul Ciampoli
APPA News Director
August 26, 2020

The Western Area Power Administration and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation joined forces between Aug. 14 and 19 to generate and transmit roughly 5,400 megawatt-hours in response to California’s energy emergency, the two federal agencies reported on Aug. 25.

The two federal agencies are responsible for generating, marketing and transmitting hydropower from federally owned hydroelectric dams to preference customers. In an emergency situation, the hydropower can be called upon to limit outages and stabilize the grid.

Reclamation generated the power using its fleet of federal hydroelectric dams in the West, including, among others, 18 dams in the Central Valley Project in northern California; Glen Canyon Dam in Page, Arizona; Hoover Dam on the border of Arizona and Nevada; Morrow Point Dam in western Colorado; Davis Dam in Arizona; and Parker Dam in California.

WAPA then transmitted the energy via its high-voltage transmission system into the California Independent System Operator’s service territory, while continuing to reliably serve WAPA’s customer loads.

WAPA’s Sierra Nevada region provided more than 3,300 MWh, while the Colorado River Storage Project provided nearly 1,900 MWh and Desert Southwest provided more than 200 MWh.

 In some cases, WAPA was able to offset this generation and continue to meet its customers’ demand by increasing hydropower output from other dams to provide power to local areas. 

The agencies noted that hydroelectric dams are crucial sources of reserve energy in case of system emergencies. The large reservoirs, such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell, function as enormous batteries and can quickly dispatch a large amount of electricity on the grid.

WAPA and Reclamation have plans in place with a number of utilities to provide emergency power from federal hydroelectric powerplants.  

CAISO implemented rotating outages

On Friday, Aug. 14, CAISO declared a Stage 3 electrical emergency that lasted a little over two hours, with  rotating outages throughout the state for about the first hour. A second Stage 3 emergency was declared Saturday night for twenty minutes.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday, Aug. 17, signed an emergency proclamation to free up energy capacity.

In announcing the emergency proclamation, Newsom also said he had sent a letter to CAISO, the California Public Utilities Commission, and the California Energy Commission demanding an investigation into “the service disruptions that occurred over the weekend and the energy agencies’ failure to predict and mitigate them.”

Calling the blackouts “unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state,” Newsom said the agencies failed to anticipate the event and to take necessary actions to ensure reliable power supplies.

Newsom also applauded the efforts of state officials who worked to bring more energy resources online, including generation from “sources like the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the California State Water Project and investor-owned utilities.”

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