How Does California Avoid Texas-Style Outages?

How Does California Avoid Texas-Style Outages?

As we get into hotter months, you may be concerned about the increasing risk of outages like Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events and Flex Alerts. These types of outages are different, but both can be difficult to navigate. In response to the increasing likelihood of these events, Governor Newsom directed all state agencies to make additional energy resources available to serve customers during the high-power demand peak on days when there are extreme weather conditions.

MCE and other agencies are focused on identifying ways to increase energy supply and to decrease demand during the peak demand hours. These efforts help us prevent larger and more widespread outages like those experienced in Texas in 2021.

What causes outage events?

The two main types of outages in California are PSPS events and outages during Flex Alerts. PSPS events are preplanned shutoffs that help reduce the risk of fire during dry, hot, and windy weather conditions. Flex Alerts are unplanned outages that occur when there isn’t enough electricity to meet high demand, typically during extremely hot days. While changing your energy consumption behavior won’t prevent PSPS events from occurring, reducing your energy consumption during periods of high demand can help avoid outages during Flex Alerts.

Those events are different from the Texas outage events, which were caused by the shutdown of natural gas pipelines and coal facilities that produce almost 70% of the state’s electricity. The shutdown, along with deregulated customer rates and no requirements for additional generation capacity in reserve, are the main causes of the Texas outages.

How is the Texas electric grid different from California’s grid?

Texas electricity customers choose their electricity provider and plan each year. They have two options: A fixed rate plan like what we have in California and the wholesale market. The wholesale market exposes customers to electricity prices that vary on a day-to-day basis, which can be a major concern during periods of low electricity supply.

When electricity supply is low, the wholesale price of the remaining resources increases, which is then passed directly on to customers. For customers that can’t pay those higher prices, power can be shut off. That was a large contributing factor during the Texas outages. California’s electricity market does not expose customers to wholesale prices and is highly regulated to ensure that enough electricity is available at any given time. Therefore, California customers will not see price spikes like what occurred in Texas.

As climate change has caused more extreme weather and hotter summers, the amount of energy needed during peak hours has increased, which, in turn, increases the risk of outages in California. However, we are taking action to reduce future outages.

How is MCE reducing outages?

Every electricity supplier in California is required to have reserve capacity available if more electricity is needed on the grid than is forecast. The California Public Utilities Commission created the rules governing reserve capacity in response to the energy crisis in the late 1990s. Electricity suppliers like MCE must demonstrate that they’re purchasing enough capacity to cover at least 115% of the expected peak electricity load to ensure grid reliability and energy availability. State regulators are currently considering increasing this capacity requirement.

MCE’s annual Integrated Resources Plan has committed to procuring 585 megawatts of storage capacity by 2030, with 300 megawatts of this capacity expected to be paired with renewable energy projects. This commitment allows MCE to take greater advantage of renewable energy by storing excess solar during the day, dispatching it to the grid when energy is needed, and as a result, displacing outdated fossil fuel generation.

MCE also has a variety of programs that help residents and businesses reduce their energy consumption or shift their usage to lower demand times, including home, commercial, and agricultural/industrial energy efficiency, demand response, and smart EV charging.

Learn more about MCE’s efforts to increase grid reliability here.

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