California once again under threat of rolling blackouts

It’s not just heat that causes threats of rolling blackouts in electricity-starved California. Power plant repairs and an approaching cold front once again raise issues about California’s power production, distribution, and use.

Rolling blackouts were narrowly avoided on Thursday, when power grid managers restricted power to water pumps that normally pump water from northern to central and southern California. These power-saving measures saved around 500 megawatts–but with grid demand approaching 31,600 megawatts, the statewide power reserves dipped to only 1000 megawatts. By way of comparison, 1 megawatt powers approximately 1000 homes.

Without the emergency measures, rolling blackouts could have been implemented, leaving blocks of up to 100,000 customers without power for up to one hour.

On Monday, when parts of the northwest are also expecting cold fronts, the problem may become even greater, as power from the northwest will be unavailable to California.

Thursday’s unprecedented Stage Three alert highlights problems with California’s current electric deregulation rules, to be sure-but it may also bring to the forefront issues of centralized power distribution and power consumption trends.