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Heat, Fire, Drought Threaten California's Power Reliability

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An intense heat wave, raging wildfires and extreme drought have put California on alert, sparking multiple pleas for all Golden State residents to cut back on using electricity. Foreshadowing a possible repeat of last summer's energy crisis, regulators' main focus on conservation for several days last week was on times when solar generation was going off line between the hours of 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and wind had not picked up raising the specter of rolling blackouts (NGW Aug.24'20). Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order to quickly secure additional power that has helped maintain grid stability. Complicating the state's power deficit, it, the fast-moving Bootleg fire, which started in southern Oregon's Klamath County on Jul. 6, tripped the California-Oregon AC intertie. The massive transmission system can ferry about 4.8 gigawatts of hydropower -- enough electricity to serve millions of homes -- and is a key source of power for California in the summer. The loss came as the state was enduring an intense heat wave that was already causing a strain on the grid. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) said that in 2019, California was the fourth-largest electricity producer in the nation, but the state was also the nation’s largest importer of electricity and received about 28% of its supply from generating facilities outside of California, including imports from Mexico. The intertie is operated by Bonneville Power Administration, which is the Portland-based federal power marketing agency that sells electricity from federal hydroelectric dams and operates three-quarters of the region’s high voltage grid. Heavy smoke and particulate matter caused the line to arc and trip off line, a BPA spokesman said. The incident led the California ISO (Caiso), California’s grid operators, to issue urgent alerts for two consecutive days asking customers across the state to conserve power. Caiso has issued six such alerts so far this summer. Caiso CEO Elliot Mainzer and Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Mark Rothleder said that the fire had threatened to destroy the California-Oregon Intertie, an alternating current (AC) connection that constitutes the first point of connection between southern Oregon and northern California. Gas Still in Short Supply Most of the western US is experiencing intense and historic drought and California is one of the most severely affected states, the EIA said. As of Jun. 22, 100% of the state is experiencing some degree of drought and about 33% of the state has been categorized under exceptional drought, the most intense drought classification. The drought conditions are straining California's water supply levels and causing a significant decrease in hydropower this year. "We expect hydroelectric generation in California to be lower in 2021 than it has been in recent years," EIA's Lindsay Aramayo said. In the first four months of 2021, California's hydroelectric generation was 37% less than in the same four months in 2020 and 71% less than during those months in 2019. Recent unprecedented heat that sizzled parts of California, the Pacific Northwest and across the border in Canada sent gas demand soaring -- along with prices (NGW Jul.5'21). Historic heat, with temperatures rising into the 100s across the region, impacted US markets from Seattle to Los Angeles. As is often the case with regionwide heat waves, available imported power to help make up shortfalls dropped precipitously -- and gas to fuel in-state plants needed to supplement power loads was in short supply. That is especially true in Southern California, where Socal Citygate prices averaged $7 per million Btu on Jun. 29, Energy Intelligence data show. An already short supply of gas to power plants has been made worse by restrictions on the use by Southern California Gas of its key Aliso Canyon storage field (NGW Nov.30'20). Lisa Lawson, Houston

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