California blackouts are Public Utilities Commission’s fault, grid operator says
California’s power grid operator delivered a blistering rebuke Monday to the state’s Public Utilities Commission, blaming the agency for rotating power outages — the first since the 2001 energy crisis — and warning of bigger blackouts to come.
In their first public comments since the blackouts began Friday evening, officials at the California Independent System Operator described a “perfect storm” of conditions that caused demand to exceed available supply: scorching temperatures in California and across the western United States, diminished output from renewable sources and fossil-fueled power plants affected by the weather, and in some cases plants going offline unexpectedly when electricity was needed most.
But Stephen Berberich, the grid operator’s president, said the state could have been prepared for that perfect storm if only the Public Utilities Commission had ordered utility companies to line up sufficient power supplies.
During the grid operator’s board meeting Monday, Berberich faulted the commission for failing to ensure adequate power capacity on hot summer evenings, when electricity from the state’s growing fleet of rooftop solar panels and sprawling solar farms rapidly drops to zero but demand for air conditioning remains high. It’s a challenge that will only intensify as California adds more solar panels and wind turbines to meet its targets of 60% renewable electricity by 2030 and 100% emissions-free power by 2045.
“For many years, we have pointed out to the [Public Utilities Commission] that there was inadequate power available during the net peak,” Berberich said, referring to the evening period when solar production dries up but cooling demand remains high. “The situation we are in could have been avoided.”
He added, “It’s near certain that we will be forced to ask the utilities to cut off power to millions today to balance supply and demand — today, tomorrow and perhaps beyond.”
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Asked about the grid operator’s criticism, commission spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said the agency is “working with our sister agencies to better understand why this occurred.”