California energy officials held their breath Monday and bracedthemselves for what might be the severest test yet for the state’soverworked electricity infrastructure and overheated wholesalepower market.

Triple-digit temperatures, even in parts of the San FranciscoBay Area, and tapped-out generation capability both in- andout-of-state have prompted the state’s transmission grid operator(Cal-ISO) and state facilities to launch a week-long “power watch”mode that sparks a lot of voluntary cutbacks in electricity use.

Before noon, the Cal-ISO declared a Stage One alert, raising itsforecast peak-demand level above 44,000 MW. By 2 p.m., the ISOupped the ante to a Stage Two, meaning reserves were expected todrop below 5%.

“Severe heat exacerbated by a critical shortage of powerreserves is making it challenging to maintain reliability of thepower grid today,” the Cal-ISO officials said in declaring yetanother second stage alert. “Energy conservation is urgentlyrequested.

After deferring maintenance on units all summer, merchantgenerators in the state reportedly refused to keep all of theirunits running in the face of the latest crisis, although theCal-ISO was considering calling another “no-touch” (no plannedmaintenance) week, a state energy official said.

“We’re looking at a very tight situation,” the official said.About 3,000-MW of generation capacity was kept out of service formaintenance on Monday, according to Patrick Dorinson, Cal-ISOspokesperson.

“There is a good indication that we’ll average $100 per MWh forthe whole 24-hour period today,” said a spokesperson for theCal-PX. “Wholesale spot prices are expected to peak about $220 perMWh for the peak-demand hours. Off-peak I don’t know how high theywill be.”

Concerns were running high that a repeat of unprecedentedvoluntary rolling blackouts in the Bay Area will develop this weekif weather forecasts prove to be accurate about the state’s latestheat wave. The June 14 occurrence was limited to the greater SanFrancisco area and was not sparked by a generation shortage as muchas transmission line limitations in the immediate region.

The state’s well-publicized need for new generation and itsattempts in the interim to find added megawatts has obscured itstransmission shortcomings, which the Cal-ISO President Terry Wintertalked about last week at federal hearings in San Diego.

“I don’t think that transmission has gotten the attention itshould, and I will be ordering transmission to be built, but FERCalso is going to need to be involved,” Winter told a hearingconducted by the four FERC commissioners. “FERC needs to encourageregional transmission planning. A lot of what we see in our systemare not just precipitated by moving power around the state, theyare caused by moving power from Arizona to the Northwest, or fromthe Northwest to LA, and LA to Arizona. As we look at those, it isclearly a regional problem.”

Exacerbating California’s problems in this week’s heat wave isthat dwindling supplies available around the West have dropped evenmore as hydroelectric resources have shrunk and heavy demand in theSouthwest soaks up those sources of electrons.

“We’re down to that point in the year where there isn’t muchhydro left — in California or in the Pacific Northwest,” said theCal-ISO’s Dorinson, noting he couldn’t estimate how many megawattswere available to import into California, but they were downsubstantially from what was available earlier under mildertemperature conditions.

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