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California Wildfires Could Spark Fresh Wave Of Blackouts

California utility PG&E Corp may have to shut down the power supply to customers more frequently during the wildfire season in the summer and the fall this year, due to exceptional drought conditions, the company’s chief risk officer Sumeet Singh told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published on Friday.

The power outages could be more frequent, but they will likely be smaller, Singh said. 

The company urged customers on Thursday to take precautions to reduce wildfire risk: 

“As California heads into wildfire season and with 77% of the state facing extreme or exceptional drought conditions, PG&E urges customers and the communities it serves to prepare now and take safety precautions to reduce wildfire risk”. 

If winds are strong, the risk of wildfires grows and could result in more power outages, the company notes. 

“The big, big variable that’s unpredictable here is the wind,” Singh told the Journal. “But in all the forecasts that we’ve done, we do not see ourselves getting back to the same kind of [power shut-off] events like we saw in 2019.” 

Back then, PG&E proactively shut off electricity supply to more than a million customers to prevent wildfires during windstorms. 

This year’s blackouts may not be as bad as in 2019, but California’s electricity grid will be more severely strained due to the drought. 

A more severe than usual drought in California has depleted reservoirs and lakes, including the ones feeding some of the largest hydropower facilities, putting the state again at risk of power outages during heat waves this summer. This year, the drought in California has reduced the output of hydropower stations and could force the state with ambitious emission-reduction targets to rely more on its remaining natural gas-powered plants for baseload electricity supply.  

North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) warned last month in its 2021 Summer Reliability Assessment that parts of North America are at elevated or high risk of energy shortfalls this summer during above-normal peak temperatures. California falls in the “high risk” category, as it relies on large energy imports during peak demand and when solar resource output retreats in the evening hours, according to NERC. 

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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