Houston — Despite apocalyptic images of the raging US West wildfires and days-long heat wave, power markets have shown little reaction to the situation, and power has been restored to nearly all customers who experienced preventative outages as part of local utilities' Public Safety Power Shutoff program.
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With 29 major wildfires burning across California, no fires have threatened the bulk electric system, California Independent System Operator spokeswoman Anne Gonzales said. While Cal-ISO does not oversee maintenance of transmission assets, the grid operator has a set of emergency measures if reduced transmission causes reliability concerns.
The ISO has declared no transmission emergencies due to wildfires this summer; the last declared emergency was in January after a transmission line was lost in Northern California. In comparison, Cal-ISO had three transmission emergencies in 2019, two in 2018 and one in 2017. A transmission emergency is declared for any event threatening or limiting grid capability, including line or transformer overloads or loss. It can be issued on a system-wide or regional basis.
The summer peak power demand season typically starts in July and extends into September, while the wildfire season spans July to November, peaking in September and October.
Local preventative outages
The grid operator did not order power outages, but many utilities took power offline as a precaution.
Power was restored to all Pacific Gas and Electric customers who could be restored by Wednesday night, which accounts for about 97% of all customers, Jeff Smith, PG&E external communications manager, said Sept. 10. Some customers remain out of service due to ongoing wildfire threats, impacts from smoke impeding patrols and requests from first responders to keep power lines off to assist in firefighting efforts.
At the peak, PG&E had about 175,000 customers – out of 5.1 million total electric customers – without power across 22 counties as part of PSPS, Smith said, adding PG&E improved its PSPS program by making the preventative outages smaller in size and shorter in length.
PG&E crews started inspecting transmission lines Sept. 9, but findings were not yet available, Smith said.
"Weather is dynamic and always changing. PG&E has done a variety of things from undergrounding lines to system hardening to reduce wildfire potential," Smith said. "We also will implement Public Safety Power Shutoffs when necessary, with the commitment that these shutoffs are expected to be shorter, smaller and smarter - providing more accurate timely information - for our customers."
Less than 1% of Southern California Edison remained without power as of Sept. 10 – out of 5 million total power customers, according to SoCal Ed data.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power had a peak of about 147,000 power outages – out of 1.5 million total power customers – over the extreme heat weekend, according to a LADWP news release. Power was restored to all customers by Sept. 8.
"The outages we experienced were mainly due to heat and use and our equipment not being able to cool down over night," Ellen Cheng, LADWP media relations manager, said Sept. 9.
Red flag warnings linger in parts of Oregon and Washington state.
"The strong, gusty winds over the West are expected to weaken by the weekend, which will help reduce the severity of the fire conditions across the West," according to the US National Weather Service. "However, low humidity and warmer temperatures will be enough for elevated fire concerns to remain."
Wildfires have burned more than 3.1 million acres in California year to date, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
"This year's fire season has been a record-breaking year, in not only the total amount of acres burned, but six of the top 20 largest wildfires in California history have occurred in 2020," according to CAL FIRE.
In Oregon, 4,546 acres have burned from human-caused fires and 13,201 acres burned from lightning-caused fires, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. In Washington state, 10 large fires burning are currently burning 300 acres, down from 214 fires and 18,680 acres burned in August, according to the state's Department of Natural Resources
September is forecast to be warmer than normal so strong demand over a wide enough area could boost prices, said Morris Greenberg, S&P Global Platts senior manager of North American power analytics, adding he does not expect more power generation curtailments.
Currently, prices show little reaction. SP15 day-ahead on-peak locational marginal prices were in the upper $30s/MWh Sept. 10, according to the ISO. On-peak balance-of-the-month has been trading in the low $40s/MWh on the Intercontinental Exchange, while SP15 on-peak October averaging in the low $40s/MWh so far this month after falling 5.4% from the start of the month, according to Platts data.
Likewise, Mid-C day-ahead on-peak is currently in the low $30s/MWh, according to Platts data. On-peak bal-month is trading in the upper $20s/MWh on ICE and on-peak October is averaging in the upper $30s/MWh after slipping 6.5% from the start of the month, according to Platts data.
Labor Day heat wave background
Cal-ISO daily peakload reached as high as 46.475 GW on Sept. 6 with SP15 on-peak prices reaching into the $160s/MWh, well below the record high of $697.91/MWh reached Aug. 18.
A stage 2 emergency was declared Sept. 5 and 6. A stage 2 emergency means the ISO has taken all mitigating actions and is no longer able to provide its expected energy requirements.
Conservation efforts and increased power imports prevented Cal-ISO-enforced outages. Imports averaged 199.4 GWh/day for Sept. 5-7, up 26% from the August average and up 12% from the year-ago average, according to ISO data. Cal-ISO issued statewide flex alert for Sept. 5-7, a call to voluntarily conserve electricity when an energy supply shortage is predicted.
The ISO also declared restricted maintenance operations for Sept. 5-6, which requires generators and transmission operators to postpone planned outages for routine equipment maintenance to ensure all grid assets are available for use. In addition, the grid operator sought any available capacity through its Capacity Procurement Mechanism.
August heat wave, outages
For the first time since 2001, Cal-ISO directed rotating power outages Aug. 14 and 15 when a heat wave caused demand to surpass available resources. Peakload reached a year-to-date high of 47.12 GW Aug. 18. The all-time peakload record is 50.27 GW, reached July 24, 2006.
Cal-ISO was on restricted maintenance operations from Aug. 14-21 due to the heat wave and again Aug. 24-25 due to weather uncertainty from wildfires. The ISO also issued numerous flex alerts and entered stage 2 and 3 emergency status after the loss of gas and wind generation left more demand than available resources.
In addition, the ISO solicited any available capacity using its CPM authority in order to address system needs caused by the current heat wave.