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California power grid on the brink of collapse

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: California, power grid, collapse

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(NaturalNews) A persistent heat wave that continues to blanket much of Southern California in temperatures as high as 10 degrees or more above average for this time of year is threatening to potentially take down the state's electricity grid, suggests a recent warning issued by the state's electricity grid operator. The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) issued a "flex" alert on August 9 urging electricity customers to decrease their power consumption habits during peak hours in order to avoid a potential blackout situation.

Many areas of Southern California reached record-level temperatures just days prior to the alert's issue, and temperatures were only expected to continue escalating into the weekend. (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com). Because of the heat, more people than usual have been using their air conditioners to cool off, which has greatly taxed an already overburdened energy system that was recently made worse by the shutdown of the radiation-leaking San Onofre nuclear power plant on the Southern California coast.

"We are having above-normal temperatures, especially on the coast," said Steven Greenlee, a CAISO spokesman, to Reuters. "We've got higher demand because of the temperatures and, as we had anticipated when San Onofre went offline, supplies are getting tighter."

California heat wave could last longer than expected

Though CAISO lifted the flex alert on August 10 (http://www.caiso.com/informed/Pages/Notifications/Flex-Alerts.aspx), the temperature decrease that was expected to come this week may not arrive as quickly as planned, which could mean further threats to the power grid. The Los Angeles Times reports that high temperatures will likely persist throughout the following week, with highs dropping by only a degree or two every day. These conditions could prompt another CAISO alert if energy demand remains as high as it has been.

"The cooling trend ... is going to be slower to occur," said meteorologist David Sweet from the National Weather Service (NWS) to the Times. "It's not going to be very impressive for a few days."

According to CAISO, California's energy grid is capable of producing a maximum of 58,600 megawatts (MW) worth of power. Peak demand last Thursday when the group issued its alert was slightly above 47,000 MW, which is roughly 1,000 MW higher than what CAISO expected in its earlier forecasts. The all-time high for power usage at any given time in California was 50,270 MW on July 24, 2006, which was also during a severe heat wave.

Much of the western U.S. has been stricken with this excessive heat as a result of a large high pressure system centered around the Four Corners region where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah all touch one another. Weather experts say this system will eventually move eastward, but it could be several days until California and other states feel any relief from it.

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