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California heat wave: Several Bay Area cities may have needlessly cut power to thousands of

Some Northern California cities appear to have instituted rolling blackouts on Tuesday in error after a miscommunication with the operator of the state electric grid, the California Independent System Operator, amid the historic heat wave.

At least three Bay Area cities initiated the rotating outages Tuesday night — Alameda, Healdsburg and Palo Alto. Each city is a member of the Northern California Power Agency, or NCPA, a not-for-profit joint powers authority.

Another member, Lodi in San Joaquin County, said its power agency, Lodi Electric, was asked to shed load at 6 p.m. Tuesday, and subsequently cut power to 1,372 customers in several neighborhoods at 6:20 p.m. Power was turned back on just after 7 p.m, after the NCPA told Lodi “that we could restore power and that we were on standby,” according to Mary Campbell, City of Lodi public information officer.

But at 8:30 p.m., Lodi officials said on the city’s Facebook page, they learned that the “load shed order to Lodi was in error.”

“NCPA informed Lodi Electric that there was a communication error between them and Cal ISO that caused NCPA to issue the order to Lodi and other NCPA members,” the city said.

Lodi resident Larry Whitted was one of thousands of customers affected by the accidental rotating outages Tuesday night. Whitted said he received a text message about ten minutes after the power went out that stated: “CAISO declared system emergency. Lodi required to shed load. One (1) hour power outage will occur in your area within 30 min. Medical emergencies, call 911.”

His power was out for about 45 minutes, Whitted said. While he had expected a potential outage and felt that the outage was “no problem for us,” Whitted said he was irked by media reports and official statements claiming that California saw no rotating outages Tuesday night.

“Gavin Newsom tweeted that there were no emergency outages, but I know there was because I was in one of them,” Whitted said.

NCPA members include Lodi, Alameda, Healdsburg, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Biggs, Gridley, Lompoc, Redding, Roseville, Shasta Lake and Ukiah.

California ISO said at about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday that electricity supplies were running low amid unprecedented demand as California’s record-breaking heat wave strained the grid. The Independent System Operator moved into Stage 3 emergency operations, allowing it to order utilities to initiate shutdowns if necessary.

Rotating outages in several California municipalities Tuesday night weren’t ordered by the grid operator and resulted from confusion and misunderstanding, grid CEO Elliot Mainzer said Wednesday on a media call.

“These are situations that obviously happened very infrequently, and there was a lot happening on the grid for everybody last night. So, we’ll double down on the communication to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Mainzer said.

Further strains on the power grid are expected Wednesday, when peak demand is forecast at 51,243 megawatts — not too far off Tuesday’s record of 52,061 MW. (Going over 50,000 MW is extremely rare.) Another Flex Alert asking residents to save electricity has been issued for 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

On Tuesday night, Alameda said in a Facebook post that the California ISO “declared a Level 3 alert from 6-8pm tonight, which starts our rolling outages. We had to shut down 2 circuits, Marina Village and East End, and outages will last for 45-60 minutes.

A second hour of shutoffs on Bay Farm Island was canceled, the city utility said.

Alameda Municipal Power released a statement Wednesday morning that said the NCPA instructed Alameda to shed load around 5:45 p.m, resulting in power outages for 1,400 customers from 6:05 p.m. to 7:05 p.m. “If NCPA instructs us to drop load, AMP must act,” the statement read.

“In conjunction with the NCPA working with the CAISO, we are working to clarify procedures to ensure unnecessary outages do not occur moving forward,” the statement read.

The city of Healdsburg said around 6:20 p.m. Tuesday it had been directed by California ISO to turn off power for around one hour. About 90 minutes later, the city said power outages were over due to lower system loads.

Palo Alto Utilities, the city’s municipal operator, said around 6:30 p.m. that power was shut off in response to the state efforts meant to reduce power demand. The agency said around 1,700 customers in the Midtown, Old Palo Alto and Industrial Park were affected by the outage. About half an hour later, the utility said power was restored after California ISO allowed it.

Jordan Cowman, a spokesperson for Palo Alto Utilities, said Wednesday they were one of several utilities that were contacted and authorized to begin the shut offs. He said he believes the NCPA and California ISO were working together but did not say who the Palo Alto Utilities received the authorization from.

“We (shut off power) to the amount requested of our utility and then we got the all-clear,” said Cowman.

Representatives with the city of Healdsburg and the NCPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some residents across California, across many utilities including Pacific Gas & Electric Co., have also experienced unplanned outages during the heat wave as the extremely hot temperatures cause power equipment like transformers to fail. These are different from rotating blackouts or pre-planned outages to reduce wildfire risk.

Jessica Flores (she/her) and Claire Hao are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: [email protected], [email protected], Twitter: @jesssmflores, @clairehao_

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