Californians in large parts of the state could be facing another long — and hot — summer as state and local officials are already warning of rolling blackouts due to a combination of increased demand, wildfires, and lack of adequate infrastructure in the fifth-largest economy in the world.
Last week, a committee of public and private officials involved in the maintenance of California’s electric grid hosted by the Sacramento Press Club issued the warning in response to now-familiar patterns of weather and demand as temperatures are already rising around the state, Just the News reported.
The panel included “Robert Foster, former Mayor of Long Beach and former president of Southern California Edison; state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, who also sits on the state’s wildfire prevention group; Elliot Mainzer, the president of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO); and Susan Kennedy, a former aide to Govs. Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger,” the outlet reported.
The panel’s discussions focused primarily on the state’s frequent inability to deal with residents’ power needs, which results in rolling brownouts and blackouts. And while members expressed some confidence the state would be able to keep the lights on and air conditioners running throughout the summer, they were resigned to the probability of power cuts during times of peak demand due to excessive heat.
“If we get into another west-wide heating event like we saw last year, our numbers tell us the grid will be stressed again,” Mainzer told the panel. “We will be reaching out actively to consumers to conserve energy.”
Foster spoke highly of a recent recommendation to give priority to local power delivery when demand is high through a process known as “wheel-through” wattage — power that is passing through the grid en route to other states. But utility companies in those states have ripped the plan, saying that it will simply export California’s worsening power problems to them.
Kennedy went on to suggest a political dynamic to power outages, saying that after more than a year’s worth of COVID-19 restrictions and business closures, embattled Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom could see blame though she claims he isn’t at fault.
“Voters don’t care why something occurred, they just want it fixed,” Kennedy said. “Don’t underestimate how pissed off people will get after a year and a half of facing some of the worst times of their lives, how trigger happy they would be about blaming folks in government.”
McGuire cast blame on the state’s biggest power provider, PG&E, over the company’s alleged failure to address its miles of transmission lines in regions that are deemed to be severe wildfire risks, though it’s no clear what the company is supposed to do to ensure those areas continue to be served.
“I don’t want to lose sight of the most immediate issues Californians are facing right now,” he said. “They want the public utilities commission, they want the Legislature, they want the governor to keep their damned lights on. That’s it. They want to be able to turn on their air conditioners in extreme heat days and they want to send their kids to school.”
Foster, meanwhile, said if the state continues its rapid and large-scale shift away from fossil fuels, millions of consumers will hit will electric bills they can no longer afford.
“We’re asking people to go to electric vehicles, we’re asking them to electrify their homes, electrify the ports, electrify industry,” he said. “You can’t keep that rate structure in place with that electrification.”
California’s concerns about keeping its grid intact come as the state continues to shed residents — and tax revenue.
According to recently released IRS migration data, California lost an estimated 165,355 taxpayers from 2017-2018 to other states, who took some $8.8 billion in revenue with them.
“California used to be a place where everyone wanted to live, but now California has become a place where people want to leave,” Brandon Ristoff, a policy analyst with the California Policy Center, told the Center Square last week.
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