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More Electricity Outages Threaten Californians

Less than a month after California utilities barely prevented planned outages amid a heatwave that led to a boom in power consumption, the threat is back: PG&E said late yesterday it had started cutting the power supply of parts of northern California, the Wall Street Journal reports.

According to the company, these outages are done to reduce the risk of wildfires as the heat persists, leading to another rolling outage warning on Monday.

PG&E said the new outages will affect some 172,000 consumers across 22 counties, although, according to the WSJ, the total number of those affected could be about half a million people, based on census data. A day earlier, on Sunday, the California Independent System Operator said it expected a power supply shortage of 4 GW due to import problems and transmission equipment damage from wildfires.

The risk of wildfires is a sensitive issue for the California utility: PG&E only emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection two months ago after being bombarded with lawsuits for billions that blamed it for devastating wildfires in the past few years. The utility eventually agreed to pay some $25.5 billion to settle the lawsuits.

The power outage threats have sparked criticism of California’s dependence on solar and wind power as it strives to become a net-zero state. Shutting down gas-powered power plants and boosting solar generation capacity without a backup was seen as one reason for the outages. Yet others have countered with the argument that renewable energy and grid reliability could co-exist, although this would take a while to achieve.

Meanwhile, the risk of power generation equipment causing wildfires remains, whatever the energy mix in the state. According to the Wall Street Journal, PG&E has been working to make its equipment safer and be able to detect dangerous weather in advance.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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