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Politics & Government

Newsom Orders Investigation Into Abrupt Blackouts As Energy Officials Say To Expect More

Newsom presser 8-17.JPG
Liam Moriarty
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Screenshot covid19.ca.gov YouTube channel
California Gov. Gavin Newsom at his press briefing on Monday, Aug. 17.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is ordering an investigation into abrupt blackouts, which caused hundreds of thousands of Californians to temporarily lose power over the weekend due to blistering temperatures and a strained electric grid.

The rotating outages, which spanned large swaths of California, could continue this week as a heat wave digs in over much of the west coast, the governor and the state’s independent grid operator warned. The head of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) said as many as 3.3 million homes and businesses could experience outages Monday evening.

In a letter sent Monday morning to three independent agencies which oversee the state’s electrical grid and utility companies, Newsom said residents and officials did not receive proper warning of impending blackouts, which CAISO initiated Friday night as energy demand soared.

The governor called the sudden shut-offs — the first rolling blackouts since 2001, which, in part, led to the recall of then-Gov. Gray Davis — “unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state.”

But in his press briefing Monday, Newsom took responsibility for the hasty blackouts.

“We failed to predict and plan, and that’s simply unacceptable,” he said. “I am the governor. I am ultimately accountable and will ultimately take responsibility to … ensure this simply never happens again in the state of California.”

Newsom held an emergency meeting over the weekend with top energy regulators and signed an executive order to temporarily lift restrictions on power generation and pollution during peak hours.

In a press call Monday, CAISO officials estimated a peak shortage of around 4,400 megawatts, which they acknowledged could affect more than 3 million homes and businesses Monday evening.

“It’s substantial, there’s no question about it,” said CAISO President Steve Berberich. “It’s going to be highly disruptive to people. I truly, truly wish there were other options. We’re going to do everything we can to narrow that gap and try to get additional generation wherever we can get it.”

Berberich did not say where the outages would occur, which is up to the state’s utilities. He estimates power deficiencies — which would trigger shut-offs — will begin in the 3 p.m. hour and increase to a “net peak deficiency” around 7 p.m., when solar power generation begins to drop off.

The power loss could affect millions of California families who are working and schooling their children remotely in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic, which Newsom said Monday has now infected a total of 628,031 residents and killed 11,042.

After several weeks of unreliable data, Newsom said the backlog from a pair of data reporting issues which surfaced in late July has been cleared.

The new test-positivity rate is 6.5% over a two-week average, which the governor said is not quite at his 5% target. “We’re moving in the right direction. Let’s continue the good work,” he said.

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