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Extreme Drought Puts California’s Power Supply At Risk

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.

Last year, residents in California went through rolling outages as there was insufficient energy to meet the high demand during the heatwave.

This year, the drought in California has reduced 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.  

Water levels at Lake Oroville, for example, are much lower than usual and could fall to below a threshold by August—one that could prompt state officials to shut down the Edward Hyatt Power Plant, the Associated Press reports.

The Hyatt power plant is the fourth largest energy producer of all the hydroelectric facilities in California.

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.

“California is at risk of energy emergencies during periods of normal peak summer demand and high risk when above-normal demand is widespread in the west,” NERC says.

California needs imports to the area to “maintain reliability when demand peaks in the afternoon and to ramp up even further for several hours as internal resources draw down,” the assessment notes, despite the fact that the state will have 675 megawatts (MW) of new battery energy storage systems online at the start of the summer that can continue to supply stored energy for periods when needed. 

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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