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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

California Energy Solutions: Customers Debate Bad Weather for Power Outages

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More than half of Californians face power outages during heavy rainstorms, and some are convinced that climate change is to blame.

“The energy grid in California is failing,” said Pat McKeon, who has been campaigning to recall the governor, Gavin Newsom, and members of the Board of Directors of the state’s utilities.

“I do know some big storms are coming,” Mr. McKeon added. “Most of us living here have not had power for several days.”

He is referring to Hurricane Florence, which spared California, and the approaching storms in the western Pacific.

Only a couple hours before storm surges surged through North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Friday, Mr. McKeon, who declined to give his age, watched a news bulletin about the city of Oroville going without power. The Current newspaper quoted city leaders as saying that Duke Energy was dragging its feet for days before sending any crews to investigate a failure at a hydroelectric dam.

Late last year, Brown vs. Richardson, a federal court case against the state’s utilities, determined that California’s old, inadequate electric power system is vulnerable to storm surges and flooding. For example, Los Angeles has power for about a week but blackouts around 20% of the time, while San Francisco stays up for days during a storm.

“Eighty percent of the power that people rely on is not reliable,” Mr. McKeon said.

The current utility system was designed in the late 1940s, when the state’s population was nearly twice as large as it is today, said Thomas DeSarno, a lobbyist for the state’s oil producers. In some cases, he said, the system did not accommodate the growth of suburbs.

“There were not enough power poles,” Mr. DeSarno said. “There weren’t enough wires, and power wasn’t always reliable.”

There was also the issue of a scarcity of coal, which has far greater capacity than oil. California moved to diversify its energy supply by developing solar, geothermal and wind power. That led to a multibillion-dollar investment in transmission lines, including a new 450-mile high-voltage power line. The project will eventually bring electricity from the new line to unserved locations in Southern California and use high-voltage power to transmit energy from the Aliso Canyon nuclear plant, which was shut down following an explosion in 2015.

But Mr. McKeon said climate change is responsible for the issues. He said the grid is exposed to more severe storms.

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