Is California Going To Go Dark?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, California’s electrical grid has problems.

They’re about to get worse…and it’s the fault of the politicians, not the utilities.

In response to rolling blackouts over the weekend, California ISO President Steve Berber warned that California must maintain its current electricity reserves or risk ‘collapse of the entire system of California and perhaps the entire West.’


“You are trading the loss of 3000 megawatts for the collapse of the entire system of California and perhaps the entire West. […] When you’re at the very edge and you have a contingency and you have no operating reserves, you risk entire system collapse.”

As anyone in the electrical utility field knows, and as many engineers know, you can’t use 100% of your generating capacity with no reserves because if something happens – a downed powerline, equipment failure in a switching yard/substation, a generator fault – the electrical grid will start shutting down in what’s called a cascade failure. That’s when one section of the grid after another shuts down to protect generators, transformers, and switches because there isn’t enough generating capacity to take up the load.

We’ve seen that kind of failure before, with one of the larger blackouts taking place some years ago, starting in the upper mid-West (Illinois) and spreading across the northern tier to the Northeast, specifically New Jersey, New York, and portions of Connecticut, western Massachusetts, and southern Vermont. That was caused when one generating plant dropped offline when there was a switching yard failure. It took place during a heatwave and the grid was stressed trying to meet the demand.

California’s situation is worse, with an inadequate generation capacity that will shrink even more as more powerplants are decommissioned, both natural gas plants and the last operating nuclear power station are slated to be removed from the grid in the next few years. There’s no new dispatchable capacity to replace the plants coming offline. The Pyrite State already imports over 30% of its electricity and that percentage is growing. That has led to the situation where California has been using 100% of its generating capacity with no operating or spinning reserve available to service any increase in demand or a generator dropping offline. If there is a surge or drop in generation capacity it could cause a cascade failure, not just in California but in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

Why is California in this situation?

That’s the way the watermelon environmentalists in state government wanted it and did everything they could to make it happen. They’ve succeeded.