SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — For a second straight night, state power grid officials Saturday ordered local utility districts to begin rolling blackouts to thousands of homes. Minutes later they canceled the order for the San Francisco Bay Area.
The confusing message was delivered in a series of Twitter posts by Alameda Municipal Power.
At 6:44 p.m., AMP officials tweeted: “OUTAGE ALERT: The California Independent System Operator has declared a Stage emergency. We may be moving to rolling outages within 30 minutes. Mid island west of Sherman will be the first circuit dropped for 1 hour. Be prepared.”
Just 10 minutes later, AMP officials followed with: “OUTAGE UPDATE: The California Independent System Operator has canceled the stage 3 emergency. We no longer anticipate any rolling outages.”
Pacific Gas and Electric officials said the rolling outages would take place “for approximately 220,000 customers in portions of the
Central Coast and Central Valley including Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Joaquin counties. No customers should be impacted overnight.”
PG&E crews worked safely and quickly to restore power by about 8 p.m. to essentially all of the impacted customers. PG&E said staff would continue to monitor the statewide heatwave and coordinate with CAISO throughout the weekend and into next week.
The roller-coaster ride has been triggered by a stifling heat wave that has blanketed California with triple digit temperatures and a major demand for electricity to power air conditioners.
On Friday night, state power grid officials ordered the first state-wide rolling blackouts since the 2001 energy crisis.
“A long duration heat wave will impact the region through at least Wednesday of next week, and possibly beyond,” weather forecasters warned. “Excessive heat will target interior locations for the full duration of the heat event, with persistent daily afternoon highs in the upper 90s to mid 100s across the interior.”
Heat records fell in several cities on Friday. Downtown San Francisco hit 90 degrees, topping a high for the date of 86 that was set in 1995. Salinas hit 102, 18 degrees above the record set just last year. Palm Springs hit 120, breaking a 2015 record by several degrees.
The soaring heat puts a major strain on the state power grid. On Friday evening, the grid managers issued a Stage 3 Emergency at 6:36 p.m. as demand neared the system’s maximum output. They ordered utilities to implement rotating power outages immediately to protect the stability of the grid.
“By 7:51 p.m., the grid had stabilized, and utilities began restoring 1,000 megawatts of electricity that had been taken out of service,” the agency said. “The emergency declaration was lifted at 8:54 p.m.”
The outage triggered an estimated spill of 50,000 gallons of raw sewage into the Oakland Estuary from the East Bay Municipal Utility District wastewater treatment plant in West Oakland.
Signs were posted along the estuary on Saturday morning about the spill and EBMUD was reaching out to rowing clubs and others who frequently use the strait between Oakland and Alameda.
The spill occurred after power outages between 5 and 7 p.m caused a pump to fail, EBMUD said Saturday.
“This power outage caused failure of major equipment at the wastewater plant, including the ability for EBMUD to generate its own power
on site,” according to a statement from EBMUD on Saturday. “Power outages like this are quite uncommon. During PSPS events we normally get notice, but this outage occurred very quickly.”
Lights also went out in homes from Santa Rosa to the South Bay in the San Francisco Bay Area. PG&E was forced to cut off electricity to approximately 220,000 customers. A vast majority had their power restored by early Saturday.
But the utility warned more blackouts could take place and the rolling outages will come with little warning.
“Due to the emergency, PG&E was unable to notify customers in advance of the rotating power outages, which impacted customers earlier this evening for a few hours in the following counties: El Dorado, Marin, Napa, San Mateo and Sonoma,” utility officials said in a release.
The blackouts Friday night in San Rafael lasted around 2 hours and left about 50,000 PG&E customers in the dark. The lights finally came back on around 9:30 p.m., but for the restaurants downtown, the damage was already done.
Bill Higgins owns Whipper Snapper restaurant on 4th Street in San Rafael. He says he was in the kitchen when the power went out.
“We just did the best we could,” Higgins said. “We cooked whatever we could for as long as we could without the electricity. It started to get dark and we had to shut it down.”
A particularly frustrating blow at a time when he says they are already struggling. This was supposed to be the big Friday night rush.
“Restaurants are already under the gun and this was hurtful, to say the least,” Higgins said.
The beer garden at nearby Pint Size Lounge was still rocking thanks to a bluetooth speaker, some battery powered lights, and plenty of cold adult beverages.
“It was so weird for it to happen,” said one guest as she sat at a table near the fence.
People who were downtown when the power went out were relying on headlights from passing cars to see where they were going while others used flashlights on their cell phones. Some people who were forced to end dinner early wondered whether they should even bother to leave downtown.
“It’s difficult to try and go home because we want to obviously clutch by our AC units and we don’t even have that now,” said Dylan Flach, who lives nearby.
San Rafael resident Rick Peroni also was angered that the blackouts lingered.
“Rolling blackouts are supposed to be rolling and they said each outage would be a hour, instead places were out for hours,” he said in an email to KPIX 5. “How much does PGE expect us to take before we explode?”
Higgins the stakes are even higher.
“It’s the first hot day and there’s 5 more days to come. Is this going to happen every single day now, or what?” asks Higgins.