California tries to avert more blackouts with heat coming

California asked residents to dial back their air conditioners this holiday weekend as the state tries to avoid a repeat of power shortages that weeks ago triggered the first rolling blackouts in 20 years.

Electricity for delivery Friday in Southern California jumped by the most on record ahead of a heat wave that’s expected to tax the power grid. Sacramento is forecast to hit 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius) on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. Parts of Los Angeles could also reach 110.

The California Independent System Operator, which runs the grid, said Thursday it isn’t expecting blackouts. However, the ISO expects demand to be similar to the weekend of Aug. 14, when the earlier outages hit. It’s asking consumers to conserve energy in the afternoon and early evening from Saturday through Monday and has sent a notice to power generators across the state asking for extra electricity supplies.

“At this point, we aren’t forecasting any blackouts,” said Eric Schmitt, vice president of operations for the grid operator. “As we get closer and closer to each day, we will know better about the accuracy of our forecast.”

Southern California wholesale electricity prices for Friday delivery recently hit a high of $400 a megawatt-hour on the Intercontinental Exchange, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s the highest level since the state instituted rolling blackouts on August 14.

During that heat wave, the grid buckled under the strain of high demand and limited supply — forcing utilities to cut power to millions. In that case, natural gas and wind resources unexpectedly tripped offline, and electricity imports dried up, leaving operators with few options but to order cuts.

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.