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In the midst of the heat, California urgently calls for power, but avoids ongoing power outages

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Pressured by triple-digit temperatures in a debilitating heat wave, California power operators warned of potential blackouts on Tuesday, but never took the step.

The California Independent System Operator, which oversees the state’s electrical grid, issued an Energy Emergency Alert 3 at 5:17 p.m., the level at which rolling blackouts can be ordered.

Californians got a distress call on their phones with an audible alarm and an urgent plea to conserve energy.

At 8pm, the system administrator or ISO tweeted that it had ended the emergency alert. An operator spokesman said no alternating interruptions have been ordered.

“Consumer retention played a huge role in protecting the reliability of the power grid. Thanks, California!” the ISO tweeted.

Tuesday was forecast to be a peak demand day during a heat wave that has baked parts of California since last week.

And it was: The system operator said Tuesday night that the state had set a record for peak energy demand, 52,061 megawatts, surpassing the previous record of 50,270 megawatts on July 24, 2006.

Tuesday marked the first time an Energy Emergency Alert 3 was issued since a heat wave hit large areas of the state last week — although conservation calls known as “flexalerts” had been issued every day since Aug. 31.

Tuesday’s high energy consumption came on a day when nearly the entire state was under an extreme heat warning.

Before the emergency warning was issued, Pacific Gas & Electric warned earlier Tuesday that 525,000 customers could experience power outages if ordered.

The last time the ISO ordered rolling blackouts was in August 2020. Before that, the last time rolling blackouts were ordered was in California in 2001.

There were other power outages in the state on Tuesday, including some related to the heat.

About 50,000 Pacific Gas & Electric customers in the San Francisco Bay Area were without power by 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, utility spokesman JD Guidi said, but those weren’t outages and were mostly heat-related.

The most common heat-related failure is transformer failure, he said. Transformers usually cool down at night, but during heat events, temperatures can remain high and can fail.

Downtown Sacramento reached 116 degrees Tuesday, Bakersfield reached 113 degrees and it was 93 degrees in downtown Los Angeles, according to the National Weather Service.

Temperatures of 107 degrees were recorded near Hemet in Riverside County, where firefighters battled the Fairview Fire, which broke out Monday and killed two people.

Further north, San Jose reached 109 degrees, Napa was 114 degrees, and Santa Rosa reached 115 degrees, the weather service said.

More than 44 million people were warned on Tuesday about extreme heat in California and parts of Nevada and Arizona, according to the weather service. Another 13 million were under heat advisory that also covered parts of Idaho and Utah.

Dennis Romero contributed.

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