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Many Californians face up to 14 days of blackouts this summer because a single natural gas storage facility is unavailable.
The Los Angeles Times reported that there is not enough natural gas to make the electricity needed to keep Southern California, including L.A., cool during an anticipated heatwave.
The grid is so low on electricity that Southern Californians are being urged not to run dishwashers or washing machines during day hours, The Times revealed. Temperatures often soar above 100 degrees, causing a major strain on the grid due to the use of air conditioners which rarely shut off during such extreme conditions. Residents have been asked by utility companies to keep their thermostats no lower than 78 degrees Fahrenheit.
Homes, businesses, airports and even hospitals could lose power any time this summer, Reuters reported. Electricity supplies are low because of a leak at Aliso Canyon, an underground natural gas storage plant in the San Fernando Valley, north of Los Angeles.
In April, millions of Southern Californians were told to expect as many as 14 days without electricity this summer because of problems at the plant.
Aliso Canyon is used to store natural gas burned in L.A.-area power plants. The facility is currently shut down for repairs, so there is simply not enough fuel for the grid that powers Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. It serves 21 million customers.
Natural Gas Powers California
A plurality (45 percent) of California’s power comes from natural gas, because it is far cheaper and less polluting than coal. Aliso Canyon normally contains 86.2 billion cubic feet (BCF) of natural gas, but the level has been reduced to 15 billion BCF. Aliso Canyon is the largest natural gas provider in the state, The Times reported.
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Natural gas is in such short supply that regulators are letting the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power burn diesel fuel in its power plants to prevent blackouts. Air pollution regulations normally restrict the plants to cleaner natural gas.
Rotating Power Outages
Up to 21 million people could face rotating power outages, or rolling blackouts, under a plan prepared by the California Independent System Operator or ISO, the organization that runs the region’s grid.
“We’re doing everything we can to reduce the load,” Ronald Nichols, the president of the utility Southern California Edison, told the newspaper. “It’s something that we’re closely monitoring.”
Southern California Edison is so worried about shortages it is literally paying some of its customers to use less power. Under a program called demand response, people who cut electricity use get a discount on their next utility bill.
Northern California could be next.
“We are certainly watching temperatures,” Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo told The Times. “We are encouraging our customers in Northern California … to prepare for the heat now.”
PG&E is the main electricity provider in Northern California, including the San Francisco Bay Area.
California’s electricity shortage could get worse in the near feature because PG&E wants to close the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant near San Luis Obispo by 2025. Diablo Canyon generates 2,160 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 1.7 million homes. Another nuclear power plant at San Onofre in San Diego County closed in 2013.
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