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California grid operators warn of more blackouts

California grid operators said they expect to order rotating blackouts on Saturday as power reserves had fallen below critical levels during a record-breaking heat wave.

Shortly before 6 p.m. local time on Saturday, the state’s grid operator declared a stage-two grid emergency—one step away from a blackout order. Wildfires caused a generator and a solar farm to trip offline, the California Independent System Operator, which runs most of the state’s grid, said on Twitter.

Temperatures topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) across the state with Los Angeles expected to reach a high of 109. The extreme heat is expected to push electricity demand even higher than the heat wave three weeks ago, when millions of people were plunged into darkness in the first rolling outages since the 2001 energy crisis.

“This heat is even going to outdo what we saw in August,” said Jim Rouiller, lead meteorologists at the Energy Weather Group. “More than 100 high-temperature records are at stake across the West.”

The ISO issued a statewide grid alert for Sunday from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m., warning that it might not have sufficient power reserves. The grid operator expected Sunday demand to top 49 gigawatts, above the peak of 46.8 gigawatts hit on Aug. 14 when the ISO called for rotating outages. “If that forecast is realized, Sunday would be the highest-load day we’ve seen so far this summer,” said BloombergNEF analyst Brian Bartholomew.

Electricity prices for delivery on Saturday evening into Southern California jumped to $800 a megawatt-hour, according to data from the grid operator. That’s an indication of tightening supplies as solar production tapers off.

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday signed an emergency order freeing up extra electricity supplies.

Cooling degree-days—used to estimate energy demand—over this weekend are forecast to reach record highs, according to BloombergNEF analyst Jade Patterson. If that happens, electricity consumption could breach last month’s heat wave that sent natural gas prices to $13.27 per million British thermal units.

Many heat records for the date could fall across California, Arizona and Nevada through the weekend before the worst of it begins to subside Tuesday and Wednesday, said Rich Otto, a forecaster with the US Weather Prediction Center. A front from Canada bringing cooler air will dive into the western US breaking the worst of the heat but bringing wind with it that can raise the risk of wildfires, Otto said.

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