LOS ANGELES (AP) — California generally has enough electricity on tap to keep air conditioners humming this summer, but a heat wave could leave millions of Southern Californians without power in the aftermath of a huge natural gas well blowout, the state's power-grid operator warned Wednesday.
A lack of natural gas to fuel power plants during peak demand potentially could interrupt electricity on as many as 14 days this summer, according to an assessment from the California Independent System Operator.
Southern California will need "deft management" of the power supply because of the partial shutdown of the vast natural gas storage field at Aliso Canyon, Steve Berberich, the systems president and chief executive, said in a statement.
"The ISO has moved quickly to put into place new mechanisms to reduce the impact of gas curtailments on electric reliability," he added. "We are also asking consumers to respond to calls for energy conservation on days we call a Flex Alert."
In general, the report said the summer power supply appears adequate, with new supplies coming online in the past year, especially from wind, solar and other renewable power producers, and near-normal hydroelectric supplies projected thanks to decent runoff from melting snow after years of drought.
California can generate more than 54,000 MW of electricity, an increase of nearly 4 percent over last summer, the report said. That is well over the expected demand.
Southern California Gas Co.'s Aliso Canyon field is the largest natural gas storage area in the West. Ample storage is needed because natural gas pipelines can't deliver gas fast enough or carry the capacity needed to meet the demands of gas-powered generating plants when demand spikes during the hot months.
A leaking well spewed huge amounts of methane into the air for nearly four months before the well was sealed in February. During the leak, the company withdrew most of the gas in the field to relieve pressure on the leaking well. The company is under order from state regulators not to store additional gas deep underground until all 114 remaining wells pass a battery of strict tests.
However, consumer advocates and others have questioned forecasts of possible blackouts as a scare tactic to justify keeping the facility open.