3 cities may have unnecessarily cut off power to homes

Some cities in Northern California appear to have inadvertently instituted rolling blackouts on Tuesday after a miscommunication with the state’s electrical grid operator, the California Independent System Operator, amid the historic heat wave.

At least three cities in the Bay Area began the alternating outages Tuesday night: Alameda, Healdsburg and Palo Alto. Each city is a member of the Northern California Power Agency, or NCPA, a non-profit common power authority.

Another member, Lodi in San Joaquin County, said its energy agency, Lodi Electric, was asked to turn off power at 6 p.m. Tuesday and then turned off power to 1,372 customers in several neighborhoods at 6:20 p.m. pm, after the NCPA told Lodi “we were able to restore power and we were on standby,” said Mary Campbell, public information officer for the city of Lodi.

But at 8:30 p.m., Lodi officials said on the city’s Facebook page that they heard the “order to unload the cargo to Lodi was incorrect”.

“NCPA has informed Lodi Electric that there was a communication error between them and Cal ISO that caused NCPA to give the order to Lodi and other NCPA members,” the city said.

Lodi resident Larry Whitted was one of thousands of customers affected by the accidental fluctuating power cuts on Tuesday night. Whitted said he received a text message about ten minutes after the power went out saying: “CAISO has declared a system emergency. Lodi has to get rid of cargo. Within 30 minutes, there will be a one (1) hour power outage in your area. Medical emergencies, call 911.”

His power was out for about 45 minutes, Whitted said. While he had anticipated a possible outage and believed the outage was “not a problem for us,” Whitted said he was annoyed by media reports and official statements claiming California saw no intermittent power outages Tuesday night.

“Gavin Newsom” tweeted that there were no emergency outages, but I know there were because I was in one of them,” Whitted said.

NCPA members include Lodi, Alameda, Healdsburg, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Biggs, Gridley, Lompoc, Redding, Roseville, Shasta Lake, and Ukiah.

California ISO said at about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday that electricity supplies were running low amid unprecedented demand as the record-breaking heat wave in California strained the grid. The independent system operator moved into phase 3 emergency operations, which allowed it to instruct utilities to initiate shutdowns if necessary.

Varying outages in several California municipalities Tuesday night were not ordered by the grid operator and were the result of confusion and misunderstanding, grid CEO Elliot Mainzer said during a media call on Wednesday.

“These are clearly very rare situations, and a lot happened on the grid for everyone tonight. So we will double down on communication to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Mainzer said.



Further strains on the grid are expected Wednesday, when peak demand is forecast at 51,243 megawatts – not far from Tuesday’s record of 52,061 MW. (More than 50,000 MW is extremely rare.) Another Flex Alert asking residents to save electricity was issued from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Tuesday evening, Alameda said in a Facebook post that the California ISO has declared “a Level 3 alert from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm, beginning our rollout of outages. We had to close 2 circuits, Marina Village and East End, and the shutdown will last 45-60 minutes.

A second hour of lockdowns on Bay Farm Island was canceled, the city agency said.

Alameda Municipal Stream issued a statement Wednesday morning stating that the NCPA had ordered Alameda to charge at around 5:45 p.m., resulting in power outages for 1,400 customers from 6:05 p.m. to 7:05 p.m. “If NCPA instructs us to tax to drop, AMP must act,” the statement read.

“In conjunction with the NCPA working with the CAISO, we are working to clarify procedures to ensure there are no unnecessary outages in the future,” the statement said.

The city of Healdsburg said around 6:20 p.m. Tuesday that it had been ordered by California ISO to turn off power for about an hour. About 90 minutes later, the city said the power outages were over due to lower system loads.

Palo Alto Utilities, the city’s municipal operator, said the power was being cut at about 6:30 p.m. in response to the state’s efforts to reduce electricity demand. The agency said about 1,700 customers in the Midtown, Old Palo Alto and Industrial Park were affected by the outage. About half an hour later, the utility said power had been restored after California’s ISO allowed it.

Jordan Cowman, a spokesman for Palo Alto Utilities, said on Wednesday they were one of several utilities contacted and authorized to begin the shutdowns. He said he believes the NCPA and California ISO were working together, but did not say who gave the Palo Alto Utilities the approval.

“We (turned off the power) up to the amount requested from our utility and then we got everything off,” Cowman said.

Representatives from the City of Healdsburg and the NCPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some residents across California, at many utilities, including Pacific Gas & Electric Co., have also faced unplanned outages during the heat wave as the extremely high temperatures cause power equipment such as transformers to fail. These differ from intermittent power outages or pre-planned outages to reduce the risk of wildfires.

Jessica Flores (she/her) and Claire Hao are staff writers for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected], [email protected], Twitter: @jesssmflores, @clairehao_


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