Bay Area's first heatwave of the season raises concerns over power failures, drought, and fires

As Golden State officials look ahead to summer's first big heatwave later this week, two dangers arise which could threaten countless Californians.

Last August, a series of rolling blackouts were ordered by grid operators as power demand outstripped supply. Whether or not that will happen this year is a weather-dependent toss-up.

Severin Borenstein, a Haas School of Business professor and California Independent System Operator (ISO) board member, said, "We're in better shape this summer than we were last summer but I don't think we're in wildly better shape."

Grid operators, who answer to the board, issued a heat bulletin to conserve, but projects they will have enough power.

The same goes for grid member, Pacific Gas & Electric.

"We are not anticipating PSPS events. We are not anticipating any Public Safety Power shutoff events. But, we do want the public to be prepared for possible heat-related outages," said PG&E Spokeswoman Deanna Contreras.


In some cases, older equipment, especially transformers, no matter how well maintained, simply fail under excessive use causing local outages. "

We are expecting the bulk of any heat-related outages, if there are any, to be on Thursday and Friday," Contreras said. Operators say if needed, they will issue a Flex Alert telling Californians to cut usage.

On a typical summer weekday, the grid typically uses around 30,000 megawatts of power. Come Thursday and Friday, it will be around 50,000 megawatts.

"That difference is almost all air conditioning. So if we can do a little bit to cut down the air conditioning load, that goes a huge distance towards making the system balance," said Borenstein.

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Balance also means importing a lot of scarce and expensive power from out-of-state in Californian's second straight drought year when its own hydroelectric supplies are severely curtailed.

Other serious worries are heat, dryness, sparks from power tools, and the statewide threat of fireworks.

"Nobody should be doing fireworks right now, in this heat, any kind of pyrotechnics, gender reveals, any of those kinds of things that could start a fire," said Cal Fire Unit Chief Ian Larkin.