Thu. Nov 30th, 2023

What to Know

  • The operator of California’s power grid declared a rare Stage 3 emergency Friday, warning of rotating outages due to high demand.
  • More power emergencies are possible as the state faces an unrelenting heat wave into next week.
  • The last Stage 3 alert was issued in 2001 during the energy crisis.

California faces a weekend extreme heat and the possibility of more rotating outages as energy demand peaks. 

Rotating power outages were ordered Friday evening in California for the first time in nearly two decades after unrelenting heat strained the state’s electrical system.

Power grid operators say they’ll decide whether to continue the outages on a day-to-day basis. Triple-digit heat is in the forecast through the weekend with several days of extreme heat expected next week. 

Here’s what to know.

What happened Friday?

Cal ISO issued a Stage 3 power emergency alert at 6:36 p.m. The operator had earlier issued a Flex Alert, urging Californians to conserve power in anticipation of Friday’s high demand. By 7:51 p.m., the grid stabilized and utilities began restoring electricity that had been taken out of service. The emergency declaration was lifted at 8:54 p.m. Stage 3 alerts mean the ISO is unable to meet minimum reserve requirements and load interruptions are imminent. 

What led to the Stage 3 emergency?

Temperatures around the state hit triple digits in many areas, and air conditioning use increased. In addition, cloudy weather from the remnants of tropical weather system reduced power generation from solar plants.

Why shut off power on a rotating basis?

A Stage 3 Emergency is declared when demand outpaces available supply. Friday’s order was declared after extreme heat drove up electricity demand, causing the ISO to dip into operating reserves.

“Although a Stage Emergency is a significant inconvenience to those affected by rotating power interruptions, it is preferable to manage an emergency with controlled measures rather than let it cause widespread and more prolonged disruption,” Cal-ISO said.

What happens when rolling blackouts are ordered?

The California Independent System Operator, manager of the state’s power grid, declares a Stage 3 power emergency and directs utilities around the state to shed their power loads. If your local utility determines a need to shut off power, the blackouts typically last about an hour.

Was everyone affected?

After CalISO issues the power outages alert, it’s up to local utilities to manage load. In Southern California on Friday, SoCal Edison announced at 7:45 p.m. that it had been instructed to begin rotating, one-hour service interruptions. Pasadena Water and Power also warned residents about the one-hour outages, while Anaheim officials said their outages would not last more than 15 minutes. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said the rolling blackouts did not affect residents of the city.

When was the last time we had rolling outages?

The last time the state ordered rolling outages was during an energy crisis in 2001. Blackouts occurred several times from January to May, including one that affected more than 1.5 million customers in March. The cause was a combination of energy shortages and market manipulation by energy wholesalers, infamously including Enron Corp., that drove up prices by withholding supplies.

What can I do?

CalISO offers the following power conservation tips.

  • Turning off unnecessary lights.
  • Using major appliances before 3 p.m. and after 10 p.m.
  • Setting air conditioner thermostats to 78 degrees or higher.
  • Use fans and keep drapes drawn.

How will I know when there’s an urgent need to conserve?

Cal ISO has a notifications page where you can sign up to receive updates. Check you local utility’s page for other alerts.

Will there be more rotating blackouts during the heat wave?

Possibly. Temperatures throughout California are expected to remain high, increasing demand for power as air conditioning use soars. The power grid operator will decide whether to continue the rolling outages on a day-to-day basis, according to Cal ISO.

What happens before we reach Stage 3?

Californians are familiar with Flex Alerts — a call for power conservation issued by Cal ISO in anticipation of high power demand. They usually happen during widespread extreme heat. The system operator also may issue the following alerts.

  • Stage 1: Contingency power reserve shortfalls are happening or expected. There’s a strong need for power conservation. 
  • Stage 2: Cal ISO has taken all mitigating actions and is no longer able to provide its expected energy requirements. 
  • Stage 3: Cal ISO is unable to meet minimum contingency reserve requirements, and load interruption is imminent or in progress. Notice is issued to utilities of potential electricity interruptions.

What can I do to prepare for an outage?

Below, you’ll find a few tips to get you through a power outage.

  • Update your contact information with your local energy company.
  • Have a back-up charging method for your phone and other devices.
  • Keep hard copies of emergency numbers and other important information.
  • Stock your emergency kit with flashlights, batteries, cash and first-aid supplies.
  • Do you know how to manually open your garage door? Try it out. 
  • Save operation of power-heavy appliances, such as dishwashers, washing machines and dryers, for early-morning and late-evening hours. 
  • Limit the opening and reopening of refrigerators.


By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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