PG&E Comms Error Contributed to Cal Blackouts

September 16, 2020

San Francisco Chronicle:

A mistake by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. may have played a role in people losing power on one of the two days that California experienced rolling blackouts during an extreme heat wave last month.

On Aug. 15, one day after an energy supply shortage caused California’s first rolling blackouts in 19 years, PG&E erroneously directed a 400-megawatt power plant in Fresno County to scale back.

The company says it intended to tell a smaller plant to wind up to full capacity but the message to reset output instead went to the larger, natural gas-powered Panoche Energy Center, located near Interstate 5 about 50 miles west of Fresno.

PG&E’s misstep at a little before 6:15 p.m. meant that as much as 255 megawatts of power was unavailable to the state’s grid just as demand was reaching its highest point. The California Independent System Operator, which manages most of the state’s electric grid, ordered utilities to shed 470 megawatts of demand at about 6:25 p.m., leading to rolling blackouts.

PG&E told The Chronicle that the “temporary ramping down of Panoche’s energy output” lasted for less than half an hour and would have accommodated only “roughly 0.5%” of the total 44,913 megawatts demanded from the grid at the time.

The energy supply emergency that resulted in rolling blackouts that day lasted only about 20 minutes.

PG&E’s revelation does not discredit the other explanations about why Californians endured rolling blackouts on Aug. 14 and 15 and almost experienced more on other days as recently as Labor Day weekend.

Also straining the grid were the intense and widespread nature of the heat, which in August sharply limited the state’s ability to rely on out-of-state power imports. California energy leaders have said the state may be leaning too heavily on its ability to bring in electricity from beyond its borders. While regulators insist solar and wind energy itself is not the problem, they have said the state may need to rethink its rules about energy supplies and reserves.

California System Operator (CaISO) letter to Governor Gavin Newsome:

Collectively, our organizations want to be clear about one factor that did not cause the rotating outage: California’s commitment to clean energy. Renewable energy did not cause the rotating outages. Our organizations understand the impacts wind and solar have on the grid. We have already taken many steps to integrate these resources, but we clearly need to do more. Clean energy and reliable energy are not contradictory goals.

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