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.