State of emergency declared as California faces historic heat, possible power outages

Spare the Air alerts continue in Bay Area through Saturday

By Dale Kasler

The Sacramento Bee

Gov. Gavin Newsom, trying to avoid another round of rolling blackouts this weekend, on Thursday declared a state of emergency for Labor Day weekend and said the state would ease some air-pollution rules and other restrictions to free up electricity supplies.

With California bracing for a major heat wave, the governor’s proclamation allows power plants to generate more electricity “by suspending certain permitting requirements,” Newsom’s office said late Thursday. Among other things, Newsom directed the California Air Resources Board to “exercise maximum discretion to permit the use of stationary and portable generators or auxiliary ship engines to reduce the strain on the energy infrastructure and increase energy capacity during the Extreme Heat Event.”

Newsom’s order is similar to one he issued in mid-August, after California was hit with two nights of rolling blackouts as temperatures hit 110 degrees or higher in much of the state.

On Thursday, the California Independent System Operator, which manages the electricity grid, issued a voluntary call for energy conservation running from 3 p.m. Saturday to 9 p.m. Monday.

“We’ll need help,” said Eric Schmitt, vice president of operations at the ISO.

Power demands this weekend are expected to be slightly lower than the peak demands seen in mid-August. But Schmitt warned supplies are expected to be tight, in part because the heat wave is expected to engulf much of the West and California won’t be able to count on as much imported power as it usually enjoys.

In another fresh sign of the severity of the heat wave, the ISO on Friday extended a “restricted maintenance” order for two more days. The order — which forbids generators and transmission-line operators from shutting down for routine maintenance — now runs through 10 p.m. Tuesday instead of Sunday.

Last month’s rotating outages — the first since the 2001 energy crisis — exposed problems in California’s power grid. The state has done away with many of its fossil fuel plants and now relies heavily on solar and wind power. Wind power can die down suddenly and solar power fades as the sun sets.

Newsom and other state leaders say California won’t retreat from its ambitious green-energy goals but must do a better job of managing the transition to renewable energy. State law says California must get 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045.

With grid reliability in mind, state regulators Tuesday allowed a group of high-polluting gas-fired plants in Southern California to remain in operation for up to three more years. They had been scheduled for closure Dec. 31.

Spare the Air Alert

In the Bay Area, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has issued a Spare the Air Alert for Friday and Saturday, which makes it illegal to burn wood or wood products. And it says the Santa Clara Valley and parts of the North Bay could have unhealthy air through Monday.

The Pt. Reyes National Seashore will be closed, and visitors are asked to stay away from the entire area, though some parts may be open to visitors. Many beaches along the San Mateo and Santa Cruz coasts also will be closed, including those in Pacifica, Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz and the city of Monterey.

Traffic in some coastal areas is likely to be snarled with some restrictions still in force as result of the wildfires of the past two weeks.

One bright spot: Many East Bay Regional Parks will be open. But the district warned in a statement Thursday that air quality is likely to be poor, and most typical Labor Day activities, including picnicking, barbecuing, boating and swimming, will not be permitted.

Cities across the Bay Area plan to open cooling centers for residents to find daytime respite from the weekend’s most intense heat. All plan to enforce COVID-19 prevention measures, including requirements to wear face coverings. Some will allow food, others no. Most will not allow pets.

Bay City News contributed to this report

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