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California AG should probe cause of ISO-ordered summer power outages: ex-PUC president


Cal-ISO ordered rotating outages Aug. 14-15

Three-agency root cause analysis released Oct. 6

FERC to release findings at Nov meeting

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Houston — The California Attorney General needs to investigate what really led to the California Independent System Operator ordered rotating outages this summer, a former Public Utility Commission president said.

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During the Nov. 10 Clean Coalition's "What's brewing with CAISO's markets and grid operations?" webinar, Loretta Lynch, who served as president of the California PUC from 2000-02 and as a commissioner through January 2005, said more information is needed than what has been provided by officials on what caused back-to-back days of ISO-ordered rotating power outages this summer.

"The AG is a beacon of hope to make sure market manipulation is not allowed to get out of control again," Lynch said, adding Enron was allowed to bamboozle the market in the early 2000s and it would be a shame to let the "sons of Enron" to it again.

The AG should investigate if there is a conflict of interest between the ISO's commitment to managing the flow of electricity on the grid that serves 80% of California, and its role as a reliability coordinator for 42 balancing authorities and transmission operators in the western US.

"We need to know if they put other state's interests head of California's when other states' were not experiencing the same situation as California," Lynch said. "Everybody else could manage their supply, but not California. Why?"

There is hope with a new leadership, Lynch said.

Elliot Mainzer started Oct. 1 as the Cal-ISO president and CEO following Steve Berberich's retirement, effective Sept. 30, after 14 years with the ISO, which was initially announced in February.

"I hope that new leadership will take a look at the facts ... and work with the facts to follow state law for all Californians," Lynch said.


For the first time since 2001, Cal-ISO ordered rotating power outages Aug. 14-15 to maintain grid stability after two gas plants and 1,000 MW of wind generation across the state was lost and unable to serve load during a nearly week-long heat wave across the Western states, the ISO has said.

During the heat wave, numerous flex alerts were issued, restricted maintenance operations were declared, convergence bidding was suspended and the ISO solicited any available capacity using its Capacity Procurement Mechanism.

The SP15 on-peak day-ahead locational marginal price set a record high of $697.91/MWh Aug. 18.

California Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency following the power outages and sent a letter Aug. 17 to the Cal-ISO, California Energy Commission, and California Public Utilities Commission seeking details on what led to the outages.

Root cause analysis

The California Independent System Operator, California Public Utilities Commission, and California Energy Commission issued Oct. 6 a Preliminary Root Cause Analysis of the August heat wave and outages that listed three broad categories that contributed to the outages.

It included climate change-induced extreme heat storms, which existing resource planning processes are not designed to fully address.

In addition, resource planning targets have not kept pace to lead to sufficient resources that can be relied on to meet demand in the early evening hours, which was amplified by the extreme heat storm, according to the analysis.

Lastly, some practices in the day-ahead energy market exacerbated the supply challenges under highly stressed conditions.

In addition, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff are looking into the mid-August California rolling blackouts and slated to share their findings at the November commission meeting.