Tens of thousands of Southern California residents are being hit by blackouts as a sweltering heat wave brings the state’s energy infrastructure to the brink, and California’s government is to blame.
California’s decision to ban injecting more natural gas into Aliso Canyon, the state’s only gas storage facility, has made the grid more vulnerable to blackouts, especially as millions of people turn on their air conditioners to keep out record heat.
As temperatures broke 110 degrees Fahrenheit during the day Monday in parts of the southland, some 20,000 people lost their power at some point. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) had 6,200 customers without power last night, mostly in the San Fernando Valley.
Thousands of LADWP customers had to cope with no power at night, when temperatures were still in the mid-90s. Man of those customers were still without power Tuesday morning as temperatures started to rise again.
“We got the casseroles, the backgammon, the beers, the music, the light, so we’re good,” resident David Kalendarian told KCAL after his family stayed outside five hours Monday night because it was cooler outdoors than it was inside.
“We got the generator going on so we’re just making the best of what we can,” he said.
State officials have been trying to get people to cut back their energy use during heatwaves, asking residents to turn up their thermostats and turn down their water heaters.
It’s not SoCal residents’ fault their energy system is breaking down. California officials opted to close the state’s only natural gas storage facility ahead of summer.
Southern California Gas Company found Aliso Canyon was leaking methane in October, 2015, and nearby homes had to be evacuated because of the leak. The leak wasn’t a huge health risk, but it sparked the ire of environmentalists who immediately seized upon the situation to demand the facility be shut down.
Gas company officials shut down Aliso Canyon in November to fix the leak, which took several months to fix. But by that time, activists were already comparing the leak to the 2010 BP oil spill, arguing the gas leak emitted potent methane and made global warming worse.
“I don’t know but I’ve been told, SoCalGas has got to go!” environmentalists chanted during a May protest. “Jerry Brown, shut it all down!”
“This facility has proven to be extremely dangerous,” Alexandra Nagy, an activist with Food and Water Watch, told The Los Angeles Times. “The smells are still coming from this facility… Thousands of people are still displaced.”
Gov. Jerry Brown put a moratorium on injecting gas into Aliso Canyon until a full review has been done, and state officials have even mulled permanently closing the storage facility.
Closing Aliso Canyon, however, left the state with no viable alternatives for storing gas that can be used to help natural gas-fired power plants meet ramped up summer demand for electricity.
California gets more than 40 percent of its electricity from natural gas, according to state energy data. Utilities have warned that closing Aliso Canyon would only make it harder to get electricity to customers during heat waves.
“The likelihood of a power outage during a heat wave is heightened because of the Aliso Canyon gas leak and resulting moratorium on new gas injections at the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility,” according to LADWP.
“LADWP and other utilities serving the greater Los Angeles area depend upon this facility to maintain power reliability when energy use spikes during hot weather,” the utility noted. “Gas is used not only in homes and businesses, but is also primary fuel for gas-fired electric power plants.”
“Aliso Canyon is the only gas storage facility that can immediately respond to rapid changes in gas supply for 17 gas-fired generating plants, including four generating stations operated by LADWP in the Los Angeles basin,” the utility noted.