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Why was the power cut off?

Was your power cut off sometime Friday evening?

If you live in Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, or San Bernardino counties, you may have been among the 132,000 SoCal Edison customers who were without power during rotating outages, or rolling blackouts caused by a statewide emergency.

What emergency?

Sometime before 7 p.m., the California Independent System Operator declared a Stage 3 Electrical Emergency due to increased electricity demand across the state and the intense heat, which reached the triple digits in many parts of Southern California.

The California Independent System Operator is a nonprofit that oversees the state’s power grid. David Song, a spokesman for SoCal Edison refers to the operator as the “state’s referee” that is constantly balancing the demand for electricity with the state’s supply of it.

Earlier on Friday, the operator ordered a Flex Alert, which urged Californians to voluntarily conserve energy to help the power grid and to prevent outages.

However, as customers continued blasting their A/Cs to beat the triple digit temperatures, demand for electricity continued increasing, the operator issued a Stage 2 Emergency, and then the Stage 3 Emergency.

Stage 3 means the operator can order what it calls rotating outages. That means without warning, a utility may shut off your power for about one hour at a time.

The outages are meant to make sure the demand for power from customers does not exceed the state’s supply of electric power, Song said.

In a statement, the operator said that already happened, and it had to dip into its operating reserves, which serve as a back up to meet the demand.

If the demand continued to exceed the electric power supply, the entire state’s electric power transmission could be damaged and power could cease statewide, Song said.

Who decides when and where the power is shut off?

As long as the operator’s emergency is declared, your local utility company gets to decide which customers lose power.

In this case, SoCal Edison referred to a pre-made list that designates certain blocks of residential and businesses areas of various cities throughout its customer map.

From Augora Hills to Anaheim, San Bernardino to San Gabriel, Rialto to Rosemead, SoCal Edison rotated throughout its list Friday evening, cutting off power to thousands of customers, one hour or more at a time until about 9 p.m.

In all, 132,000 of its total 5 million customers, which serves 14 to 15 million people, were without power Friday, Song said.

Is this rare?

Song said during his 12 years at the utility, he had not seen the state’s power operator order a Stage 3 Emergency.

On SoCal Edison’s website, the last time the utility had to do rotating outages or rolling blackouts was on Nov. 7, 2008.

The Mercury News reported Friday was the first time since 2001 that the state operator ordered the Stage 3 Emergency. In the Bay Area, between 200,000 and 250,000 PG&E customers were affected by the order, the report said.

Are we using more power because of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders?

According to Song, power use among SoCal Edison customers has actually gone down since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Even though power use among residential customers has gone up during the pandemic, commercial and industrial businesses use most of the grid’s power.

Given the ongoing shutdown of many non-essential businesses and manufacturing facilities, power use has decreased overall.

Why was the city of Los Angeles spared of Friday’s outages?

In a statement, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the city’s main utility, said the rolling blackouts did not impact their customers. Why? Because they independently generate enough power on their own.

“We own our own power plants and transmission lines and had enough supply to meet demand plus required reserves,” said the utility, which provides water and power to Los Angeles, including the San Fernando Valley. “We encourage our customers to conserve to help state grid and reduce strain on system.”

Can we expect more outages in the future?

With the heat wave continuing to scorch Southern California over the weekend and into early next week, Song said the demand for electricity would continued to be high.

While the California Independent System Operator was not immediately available for comment, it was not clear whether they were expecting to issue another Stage 3 Emergency.

Song said for now, residents could do their part and reduce electricity use when possible, such as turning off lights when you leave a room or, if possible, cracking a window open and turning the A/C lower.

He said most of a home’s power is used through its A/C and refrigerator.

“Everyone can chip in to save demand,” he said.

Source: Orange County Register

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