California raises its energy emergency as solar power wanes

California’s electric grid — overtaxed from a relentless heat wave — faces a new threat: a decline in renewable power thanks to wildfire smoke that’s filling the air.

The state’s grid operator raised the emergency Thursday to the second of three levels and asked residents and businesses to again conserve power. It’s the fourth straight day the grid has faced emergency conditions. Thursday’s grid emergency stretched from 4 p.m. local time to 9 p.m.

The heat wave that started at the end of August has taxed the natural-gas fired power plants that the state has relied on to help stave off outages. But the longer these conditions endure, the risk of a failure will increase.

The threat of rolling blackouts has shaken confidence in the power grid, adding fuel to the debate over how quickly the state should transition to renewable energy and revived fears about the impact of climate change. It’s also contributed to higher gasoline prices in the state.

Total demand was expected to reach 49.9 gigawatts, below the record high of 52 gigawatts achieved Tuesday. But the grid Thursday and Friday faces the prospect of much less solar and wind power.

Wildfire smoke and cloud cover were expected to reduce output from solar farms during the hottest parts of Thursday afternoon, according to Elliot Mainzer, chief executive officer of the California Independent System Operator. Later in the day Thursday, weaker wind gusts were forecast, diminishing another important electric source for the state. That may continue into Friday, when officials were expecting solar generation to be reduced by as much as 1 gigawatt.

“Conditions have changed,” Mainzer said, pointing to “uncertainty about how much production we will have from our renewable resources.”

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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