California just avoided blackouts, but experts say the risk remains for the rest of the season

Extreme heat warning sign California
The Western US has seen extreme temperatures so far this year Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images
  • California just avoided potential blackouts after days of extreme heat.
  • Experts say the high temperatures and drought conditions increase the risk of blackouts.
  • Elevated temperatures are predicted throughout the summer.
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California avoided blackouts from the latest drought, but the threat is far from over for this summer, experts warned on Saturday.

Power grids were under severe strain from from heat waves and low reservoir levels, and operators asked residents to conserve electricity to prevent the blackouts the state suffered in 2020.

On Thursday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency as record high temperatures hit the Western US. The excessive heat “has and will continue to put significant demand and strain on California’s energy grid,” he said. Meteorologists expect conditions to become less dangerous as cool air moves inland by Sunday, relieving the blackout threat temporarily.

Californians aren’t from safe from blackouts, though California Independent System Operator (California ISO) CEO Elliot Mainzer said that the power grid is in a better position than it was last year. “We’ve characterized the situation going into this summer as guarded optimism,” Manzier told the AP.

The drought in the West and Southwest US is more widespread and intense than ever before in the 20 years they’ve been monitored, Morgan McFall-Johnson reported for Insider. Heat waves lead to greater demand for energy as people try to keep their homes cool – if the strain becomes enough on the power grid, the state risks rolling blackouts.

Depleting reservoirs exacerbate this problem. Water levels at Lake Orville, that second largest in the state, reached “alarming levels” of just 35% of capacity. The reservoir provides power to 800,000 California homes through a hydroelectric power plant. Officials say they’ll likely be forced to close the plant for this first time ever within a few months as drought conditions continue.

Long-term forecasts predict higher than usual temperatures through at least September, meaning the threat of blackouts will be ongoing.

“It’s not just whether there is enough water — there’s not — and whether there’s enough power or whether there are wildfires. If you have a combination of all those things, you have an Armageddon on your hands,” energy consultant Gary Ackerman told Bloomberg.