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Palo Alto customers may lose power as heat wave strains electric grid

Palo Alto Utilities urges customers to conserve, warns state may require rolling outages

City of Palo Alto Utilities may be required to institute rolling outages as part of its response to state mandates for energy conservation. Embarcadero Media file photo

As California's record-breaking heat wave continues to strain electric supplies, Palo Alto Utilities is asking customers to conserve power — and also prepare to lose it over the next three days.

Much like PG&E and other utilities across the state, Palo Alto is responding to a statewide call from the California Independent System Operator for voluntary electricity conservation to avert rolling power outages. On Monday afternoon, the utility issued a request for customers to voluntarily conserve energy during the critical hours between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m., when temperatures are high and solar production is falling because of reduced daylight.

The call for conservation, known as a Flex Alert, is expected to be in effect between 3 and 10 p.m. through Wednesday or Thursday, though it may be extended even further based on weather conditions, according to an announcement from Palo Alto Utilities.

"If voluntary energy reductions are insufficient, consumers throughout the state should be prepared for likely power outages during the late afternoons and early evenings, as there may not be enough energy statewide to meet high demand during heatwave," the CPAU announcement states.

The city expects to receive a notification from the California Independent System Operator sometime this week requiring it to curtail the electricity consumption in its service area to help the state balance the electric grid. This call may arrive with short notice, likely during the high-demand period of late afternoon or early evening. The utility will then be required to shut off power to some customers, according to the announcement.

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Planning is underway to limit impacts be employing rolling power outages lasting up to two hours.

In the meantime, Palo Alto Utilities is encouraging residents to conserve energy by setting air conditioning thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, using fans instead of air conditioners, deferring use of major appliances, turning off unnecessary lights and unplugging unused electrical devices. Customers are also encouraged to limit the time the refrigerator door is open and "pre-cool" their homes in the morning so that they can reduce use of air conditioning in the afternoon.

The city is also asking customers to charge their electric vehicles, mobile devices and laptops before 3 p.m. and to run dishwashers, washing machines and other major appliances before the peak afternoon hours.

Other utilities across California are similarly bracing for power outages and planning conservation measures. Gov. Gavin Newsom said at his news conference Monday that residents can expect power outages through Wednesday evening.

The heat wave has placed an enormous amount of stress on California's energy supplies, Newsom said, causing statewide power outages this past weekend that are expected to continue. (On Friday, around 4,000 Palo Alto residents lost power in a City Utilities' intentional outage.)

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In an effort to meet energy demands in the near future, Newsom signed an emergency proclamation that calls for several shifts in energy consumption practices, particularly by large consumers:

· Large energy users, such as factories and businesses, shift to backup power during peak hours between 3-10 p.m.

· Utility companies such as PG&E use stored power as outlined in Public Safety Power Shutoff protocols.

· Large ships to reduce consumption from the grid while at port.

Newsom also urged residents to conserve energy by cooling homes and offices overnight and in the early morning hours, avoiding using major appliances during peak hours and by turning off unnecessary lights.

"Even with all that, we are likely to fall short, and we should see some episodic issues as it relates to supplying the coverage you deserve and you demand," Newom said.

The governor said the state was not prepared for the outages that ensued this past weekend. His office has sent a letter to the California Independent System Operator, California Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission, asking them to conduct investigations on why the energy agencies could not predict and mitigate the power interruptions.

"We failed to predict and plan these shortages, and that's simply unacceptable," Newsom said.

While some Palo Alto customers may lose power because of rolling outages, others will have to go without electricity because routine repairs. The city's Utilities Department plans to perform emergency repairs on a primary electric power pole in the Charleston Meadows neighborhood tomorrow, Aug. 18, which will require crews to shut off power for most of the day.

The pole serves about 50 customers, said Catherine Elvert, communication manager for Palo Alto Utilities.

The repair work will require the electric crew to shut off the power between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.. Elvert said the Palo Alto Utilities has communicated with the customers in these homes so that they can prepare and "minimize disruption to their normal business."

Elvert said a recent inspection showed that two of the wooden cross arms on the pole are rotted and "risk a power outage for an unknown period of time for customers served by this circuit."

"This is a safety issue requiring immediate attention," Elvert said in an email.

Customers are typically provided 72-hours notice for planned power outages related to routine or emergency needs. In this case, given that many utilities customers are now working and studying from home, Utilities provided a week notice, she said.

The prospect of power outages is creating another wrinkle for the Palo Alto Unified School District, where teachers and administrators opened the school year Monday with a distance-learning model that relies on online classes. Superintendent Don Austin said the district is aware of the city's planned outage in the Charleston Meadows neighborhood — and the prospect of rolling blackouts.

"We obviously can't control rolling blackouts, but have asked principals to assure families that we understand if the power goes out," Austin said in an email.

Staff Writer Elena Kadvany contributed to this report.

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Palo Alto customers may lose power as heat wave strains electric grid

Palo Alto Utilities urges customers to conserve, warns state may require rolling outages

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Mon, Aug 17, 2020, 7:43 pm

As California's record-breaking heat wave continues to strain electric supplies, Palo Alto Utilities is asking customers to conserve power — and also prepare to lose it over the next three days.

Much like PG&E and other utilities across the state, Palo Alto is responding to a statewide call from the California Independent System Operator for voluntary electricity conservation to avert rolling power outages. On Monday afternoon, the utility issued a request for customers to voluntarily conserve energy during the critical hours between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m., when temperatures are high and solar production is falling because of reduced daylight.

The call for conservation, known as a Flex Alert, is expected to be in effect between 3 and 10 p.m. through Wednesday or Thursday, though it may be extended even further based on weather conditions, according to an announcement from Palo Alto Utilities.

"If voluntary energy reductions are insufficient, consumers throughout the state should be prepared for likely power outages during the late afternoons and early evenings, as there may not be enough energy statewide to meet high demand during heatwave," the CPAU announcement states.

The city expects to receive a notification from the California Independent System Operator sometime this week requiring it to curtail the electricity consumption in its service area to help the state balance the electric grid. This call may arrive with short notice, likely during the high-demand period of late afternoon or early evening. The utility will then be required to shut off power to some customers, according to the announcement.

Planning is underway to limit impacts be employing rolling power outages lasting up to two hours.

In the meantime, Palo Alto Utilities is encouraging residents to conserve energy by setting air conditioning thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, using fans instead of air conditioners, deferring use of major appliances, turning off unnecessary lights and unplugging unused electrical devices. Customers are also encouraged to limit the time the refrigerator door is open and "pre-cool" their homes in the morning so that they can reduce use of air conditioning in the afternoon.

The city is also asking customers to charge their electric vehicles, mobile devices and laptops before 3 p.m. and to run dishwashers, washing machines and other major appliances before the peak afternoon hours.

Other utilities across California are similarly bracing for power outages and planning conservation measures. Gov. Gavin Newsom said at his news conference Monday that residents can expect power outages through Wednesday evening.

The heat wave has placed an enormous amount of stress on California's energy supplies, Newsom said, causing statewide power outages this past weekend that are expected to continue. (On Friday, around 4,000 Palo Alto residents lost power in a City Utilities' intentional outage.)

In an effort to meet energy demands in the near future, Newsom signed an emergency proclamation that calls for several shifts in energy consumption practices, particularly by large consumers:

· Large energy users, such as factories and businesses, shift to backup power during peak hours between 3-10 p.m.

· Utility companies such as PG&E use stored power as outlined in Public Safety Power Shutoff protocols.

· Large ships to reduce consumption from the grid while at port.

Newsom also urged residents to conserve energy by cooling homes and offices overnight and in the early morning hours, avoiding using major appliances during peak hours and by turning off unnecessary lights.

"Even with all that, we are likely to fall short, and we should see some episodic issues as it relates to supplying the coverage you deserve and you demand," Newom said.

The governor said the state was not prepared for the outages that ensued this past weekend. His office has sent a letter to the California Independent System Operator, California Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission, asking them to conduct investigations on why the energy agencies could not predict and mitigate the power interruptions.

"We failed to predict and plan these shortages, and that's simply unacceptable," Newsom said.

While some Palo Alto customers may lose power because of rolling outages, others will have to go without electricity because routine repairs. The city's Utilities Department plans to perform emergency repairs on a primary electric power pole in the Charleston Meadows neighborhood tomorrow, Aug. 18, which will require crews to shut off power for most of the day.

The pole serves about 50 customers, said Catherine Elvert, communication manager for Palo Alto Utilities.

The repair work will require the electric crew to shut off the power between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.. Elvert said the Palo Alto Utilities has communicated with the customers in these homes so that they can prepare and "minimize disruption to their normal business."

Elvert said a recent inspection showed that two of the wooden cross arms on the pole are rotted and "risk a power outage for an unknown period of time for customers served by this circuit."

"This is a safety issue requiring immediate attention," Elvert said in an email.

Customers are typically provided 72-hours notice for planned power outages related to routine or emergency needs. In this case, given that many utilities customers are now working and studying from home, Utilities provided a week notice, she said.

The prospect of power outages is creating another wrinkle for the Palo Alto Unified School District, where teachers and administrators opened the school year Monday with a distance-learning model that relies on online classes. Superintendent Don Austin said the district is aware of the city's planned outage in the Charleston Meadows neighborhood — and the prospect of rolling blackouts.

"We obviously can't control rolling blackouts, but have asked principals to assure families that we understand if the power goes out," Austin said in an email.

Staff Writer Elena Kadvany contributed to this report.

Comments

Joule
Registered user
Ventura
on Aug 17, 2020 at 9:22 pm
Joule, Ventura
Registered user
on Aug 17, 2020 at 9:22 pm

Has the utility surveyed ALL of the power poles in town to identify which need to be replaced?

Can generators be used to supply essential power during the repair hours? If not, then a cooling center needs to be opened for these families so they can stay cool and get needed work and schooling done.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 17, 2020 at 10:24 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Aug 17, 2020 at 10:24 pm

Gee, maybe the rush to decommission all those reliable natural gas plants to reach the renewable and emmission-free targets just before a heat wave wasn't such a good idea with so many more people here and so many more electric cars needing to be recharged etc. Maybe the City Council/staff want to rethink banning cheaper reliable gas appliances and heat before forcing us into more costly, less reliable electricity.

The Los Angeles Times has an excellent analysis of why this problem is only going to get worse. Web Link


localmom46
Registered user
Greenmeadow
on Aug 17, 2020 at 11:00 pm
localmom46, Greenmeadow
Registered user
on Aug 17, 2020 at 11:00 pm

I'm not sure who told Weekly that the utilities department is giving people a week's notice about the utility pole replacements, but that is absolutely NOT the case. We got a notice Wednesday afternoon for a power shutoff this past Friday (which lasted nine hours). I spoke to the contractor and the manager of the project at the city that afternoon, and advised them to give residents for this week more of a heads up since school was starting. I then heard that those whose power was shut off Monday were notified Saturday. I understand that this is urgent work, but we are in the middle of a pandemic. With people working from home and students attending school remotely, there needs to be more of a heads up!


PST
Registered user
South of Midtown
on Aug 18, 2020 at 11:24 am
PST, South of Midtown
Registered user
on Aug 18, 2020 at 11:24 am

Does anyone know when the city voluntarily shuts off power in PA if they have control over which neighborhoods are impacted? If they do, I hope each neighborhood gets a turn to do their fare share.


Old PA Resident
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Aug 18, 2020 at 1:06 pm
Old PA Resident, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Aug 18, 2020 at 1:06 pm

Some solutions that work in the near-term:
1. Do not decommission the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in 2025. It produces 2250 MegaWatts (MW) which is about 4% of the 50,000 to 53,000 MW available supply in California. A nuclear power station produces no carbon. Simplify the process for re-licensing the station when its permit is up for renewal. If in the future we have adequate renewable power and the means to store it, then consider decommissioning the plant.

2. Delay the implementation of the California law that requires power generating stations to produce zero carbon until there is sufficient capacity to store the excess solar energy that will be needed at night when photo-voltaic (PV) cells cannot generate electricity. During the day, there is often excess PV electricity so prices are very low and sometimes even negative. It's absurd that we do not store this excess when it is cheap to buy. There are plans to build battery farms to store the excess energy from PV farms. However batteries can only store energy for relatively short periods of time, and there are some concerns about the safety of large battery farms. There are other technologies available that can store energy for several days (or even up to a week), which is enough time to overcome the type of shortages we are experiencing how. Consider a multi-prong approach using a variety of technologies to store the excess solar power so we don't bet only on batteries.

The regulators have prohibited construction of many facilities because there is already too much PV electricity generated!!! We should build as much PV as possible but only with adequate storage.

3. Do not decommission gas-fired generating stations that are required along with our single nuclear generating station to power the grid when the sun goes down. These generators work 24/7, rain or shine. They are currently providing more than 60% of our electricity. Eliminating all of them is extraordinarily unwise.

4. Change (or delay) the environmental laws that prohibit generating stations from discharging hot water into the ocean. This law eliminates the several generating station on the coast that can be run-up quickly to fill peak load requirements. These stations discharge hot water that does affect sea-life on the ocean. But until we can fill the peak demands with stored energy from renewable sources, the peaker stations should be allowed to operate.

A carbon-free (or even carbon-neutral) future is fine but it has to be phased in sensibly otherwise we are all going to be in the dark.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 18, 2020 at 2:44 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Aug 18, 2020 at 2:44 pm

Just yesterday Mr. Densification Sen. Scott Wiener was calling for them to SPEED up the decommissionimg of the natural gas plants because it's SO important to reach the goals and targets already set.

Sure, let's ignore reality and just keep on sloganeering. Let's ignore the 3,000,000 plus MORE people he and ABAG and MTC want to add in the Bay Area.

PS: And just today the MTC announced plans to make many more roads TOLL roads AND to lower the speed limit on all major roads to 55! That will sure help the underpaid workers -or maybe they'll just try to stick with the cost of the tolls, too!

SO tired of government by sloganeering! Common sense matters! Or did.


Sherry Listgarten
Registered user
Greenmeadow
on Aug 18, 2020 at 4:31 pm
Sherry Listgarten, Greenmeadow
Registered user
on Aug 18, 2020 at 4:31 pm

@OldPAResident, I love that you are coming up with constructive ideas. One thing to keep in mind is cost. The more we overbuild generation, just to hit the summer peaks, the more expensive our power is going to be. Solutions that tend to be much cheaper and may also be much faster are (a) conserve power during these rare events; and (b) develop a more effective regional market so that energy can be sent to where it is needed. All of us do this naturally in our homes. For example, we don't buy enough furniture for the occasional 30-person party we might host. On the rare occasions we have a big party, we borrow it and/or not everyone gets an armchair.

There are lots of ways to better conserve power during rare regional heat waves. We saw on Monday an incredible demonstration of just how much room we have to do that. Web Link

For the regional market, currently we have the Western Imbalance Market across multiple western states and Quebec. Transmission has proven mostly adequate, but the trading is mainly last-minute trading and there is no regional resource planning. So there are ways to make this market more effective. It can also be expanded.

I'm only mentioning this because when people think of power shortages, it is natural to think that we need to "build more" or "keep more". But those are expensive, and part of the charter of CPUC and our utilities is to keep costs low. Conserving during rare events and making sure we have access to an effective regional market are less expensive ways to ensure we have reliable power.


Nayeli
Registered user
Midtown
on Aug 18, 2020 at 6:26 pm
Nayeli, Midtown
Registered user
on Aug 18, 2020 at 6:26 pm

The incompetence of our state's politicians is baffling.

This is a problem that our state should NEVER have! Despite our state's large population, the density is much lower than most other countries. How many nations in Europe have "rolling blackouts?" How many states in this country have "rolling blackouts?"

Meanwhile, the politicians, PG&E and CAISO are pointing the fingers at everyone else. I hope that family members of individuals who die during the blackouts sue the state for every penny that they can.


Sherry Listgarten
Registered user
Greenmeadow
on Aug 18, 2020 at 7:55 pm
Sherry Listgarten, Greenmeadow
Registered user
on Aug 18, 2020 at 7:55 pm

@Nayeli, I agree with you that this should never have happened. On the plus side, I'm really not aware of any finger pointing. In fact, Monday and Tuesday were much more severe days than Friday and Saturday, but we've gotten through without a single blackout (knock on wood, but the peak has passed for today). That is because CAISO, the CPUC, the CEC, and the governor's office all worked very closely together to reduce demand by an enormous (really, unprecedented) amount, as well as eke out small amounts of additional supply.

The CEO of CAISO, Steve Berberich, said on a call today, when talking about the late notice of the shortfall of imports on Friday, "I own that". He was very clear that was a big problem and was his responsibility. When the organizations CAISO works with had more notice of the shortfall, as they did today and yesterday, they were able to overcome a much bigger gap with no outage. He also said that he and the CEO of the CPUC have been "joined at the hip".

So -- I don't know if it makes you feel better, but I think there was good and effective cooperation and focus on a problem that all agreed was hugely important.

For context, Berberich said that every summer they have tight days like this. Every summer, and they manage them. This heatwave was worse than normal (he mentioned the Death Valley record) and very widespread. So it was bad. Nevertheless, we should have been on top of it, and been much more aggressive from the get-go about reducing demand. On the plus side, we clearly learned that lesson, because we managed through the much more difficult days (today and yesterday).

A likely outcome of this is a more concerted effort to pay people to reduce demand on "tight" days like this. You may like that :) There is already a service, OhmConnect, that does that, but you need a smart meter. It's also the basis for how how some "smart" electrical appliances like smart chargers work. By keeping load off the grid at certain times, they make money. With a smart meter, that money can go to your pocket instead.


Nayeli
Registered user
Midtown
on Aug 18, 2020 at 8:24 pm
Nayeli, Midtown
Registered user
on Aug 18, 2020 at 8:24 pm

Thanks, Sherry Listgarten.

However, my concern is that this debacle didn't creep up overnight. If, as you pointed out, our energy capacity is capped and has come "close" in the past, then our elected leaders should have made this a priority.

I live in Palo Alto. Like many, we don't even own an air conditioner. We don't feel like we need one. Consequently, our consumption is likely much lower than many others in Palo Alto (or California in general).

Our normal nightly problem is with the skunks. Our window fans blow the stink into our windows and, consequently, force us to wake up throughout the night to reverse fan direction or close windows. It really is terrible.

However, that is nothing compared to weeks like this. Our indoor temperature exceeded 94 degrees (even with the fans on). There is no escape. So, we are trying to get the hot air out of our house while blowing cool night air inside (even as warm as the night air has been lately). At 2 A.M. (early on Monday morning), our indoor temperature was still 86 degrees.

The only "help" was through fans. Yet, now, we have rolling blackouts to deal with AND fires in the area. Needless to say, this has been a TERRIBLE week for those of us without air conditioners.

In fact, the rolling blackouts might actually be deadly for some people. The politicians who refused to address this issue effectively over the last two decades should be held accountable.


Sherry Listgarten
Registered user
Greenmeadow
on Aug 18, 2020 at 9:11 pm
Sherry Listgarten, Greenmeadow
Registered user
on Aug 18, 2020 at 9:11 pm

@Nayeli, yeah, it's not the best of times (!). Re two decades of willful ignorance, though, keep in mind that the "tight" days are *by design* to keep prices down. See my furniture analogy above. There is a huge amount of planning that is done -- lessons learned from the 2001 outage debacle -- so afaik there is no issue that has been ignored for decades. (I think on the contrary, utilities etc would say they are buried in process.) The grid is changing, though. It's more time-sensitive and weather-sensitive, for example. And the weather is changing -- heat waves like this are becoming more common. So our grid management will have to continue to evolve, and a lesson or two were learned end of last week. BTW, as you know well, power outages happen (balloons! birds! trees! lightning! ...), so anyone who is at risk of dying from one (e.g., critical medical appliance) should reach out to their utility for help. One nice thing about the rolling ones is they are at least relatively short.

BTW, same issue here with closed windows. It's now a lot warmer inside than outside. It bites. Fire + pandemic + heat wave is a little much. That is one reason I really, really want us to stop burning fossil fuels and put a lid on our emissions.


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