A do-or-die day for California’s power grid

Your guide to California policy and politics
Emily Hoeven BY Emily Hoeven September 6, 2022
Presented by American Property Casualty Insurance Association, Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and New California Coalition

A do-or-die day for California’s power grid

Today, California’s power grid is poised to face its biggest test of the summer so far as a record-setting heat wave continues to boil the drought-parched, fire-stricken state.

As residents crank up their air conditioners to deal with yet another day of triple-digit temperatures, peak demand could shoot past 51,000 megawatts — surpassing the record of 50,270 megawatts set in 2006, the state’s electric grid operator said Monday.

And, unless Californians double or triple their current conservation efforts, the state’s energy supply could fall between 400 and 3,400 megawatts short of demand between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., resulting in a repeat of 2020’s rolling blackouts, warned Elliot Mainzer, president and CEO of the California Independent System Operator. (The state also risked possible power shutoffs Monday evening, but ultimately avoided them.)

Today marks the seventh straight day that Californians have been under a statewide Flex Alert, which calls for voluntary energy conservation between 5 and 9 p.m. The timeframe was extended to 10 p.m. on Monday.

The grid operator also declared a Stage 1 energy emergency alert for Monday and today, which signals that all resources have already been committed or are expected to be used and that deficiencies are forecasted. Stage 2, which was implemented Monday evening, triggers additional urgency measures — such as activating emergency gas generators — and Stage 3 could mean rolling blackouts.

Newsom — whose administration has been calling big commercial firms and asking them to limit their energy use, according to the Sacramento Bee — on Friday expanded the emergency order he issued last week to help free up additional supplies. This angered some environmental justice advocates, who argued that some of its provisions — including allowing for expanded use of backup generators — would disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities.

  • Olivia Seideman, climate policy coordinator at Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, said in a statement: “It is unconscionable to continue making over-polluted and under-resourced communities sacrifice zones for the rest of the State.”

Newsom on Friday also proclaimed a state of emergency in Siskiyou County, which is dealing with an onslaught of wildfires, including the Mountain Fire and the Mill Fire. As of Sunday morning, the Mill Fire had burned more than 4,000 acres, killed at least two people and injured at least three others, according to state fire officials. The fire prompted thousands of evacuations and destroyed or damaged more than 100 structures — including the historically Black community of Lincoln Heights in the town of Weed.

The confluence of crises comes as California prepares to lose its director of emergency response: Newsom announced Friday that Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, will retire at the end of the year after a decade on the job, making him the latest high-ranking official to leave the governor’s administration.

  • Newsom said in a statement: “Mark has expertly guided our state through some of the most complex and challenging disaster conditions in the nation — coordinating California’s emergency response to unprecedented wildfires, severe drought, earthquakes and cybersecurity threats, as well as our nation-leading efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • Ghilarducci told the Los Angeles Times: “I’ve seen so much, from terrorism, from natural disasters, from human-caused disasters, technological disasters. Lives ripped apart. Sadness. I’ve also seen the best come out of that. As much as we are thinking that we’re at each other’s throats … I’ve seen people come together, people who have lost everything still stepping forward to help other people who have lost everything.”

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 10,291,286 confirmed cases (+1.9% from previous day) and 94,239 deaths (+0.01% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 79,642,984 vaccine doses, and 72% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.


1 Newsom signs major bills

Fast food workers from across the state rallied at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, urging lawmakers to pass AB 257. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters
California fast food workers rallied at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Aug. 16, 2022. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters

Newsom over the long weekend signed some of the highest-profile bills sent to his desk by state lawmakers: On Labor Day, he gave his stamp of approval to a controversial, first-in-the-nation bill to create a state-run council to regulate wages and working conditions for the fast food industry, which employs more than half a million non-unionized workers across the Golden State. “California is committed to ensuring that the men and women who have helped build our world-class economy are able to share in the state’s prosperity,” Newsom said in a statement. This law “gives hardworking fast-food workers a stronger voice and seat at the table to set fair wages and critical health and safety standards across the industry.”

  • Newsom’s signature marks a significant win for labor unions and a setback for business and restaurant groups, which had fiercely opposed the bill.
  • But the biggest test of Newsom’s labor bona fides could be yet to come: The governor has yet to determine the fate of a contentious bill to make it easier for farmworkers to vote in union elections and, though he’s hinted he doesn’t support it, pressure is mounting for him to sign it. President Joe Biden took the unusual step of urging Newsom to approve the bill, saying in a Sunday statement, “Farmworkers worked tirelessly and at great personal risk to keep food on America’s tables during the pandemic. In the state with the largest population of farmworkers, the least we owe them is an easier path to make a free and fair choice to organize a union.”

Newsom signed another pile of bills into law on Friday, including the centerpiece of his environmental agenda: taking a key step to extend the lifespan of Diablo Canyon, California’s last nuclear power plant, by as much as five years. “Climate change is causing unprecedented stress on California’s energy system and I appreciate the Legislature’s action to maintain energy reliability as the State accelerates the transition to clean energy,” Newsom said in a signing statement.

2 A sampling of measures on Newsom’s desk

Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock

When it comes to signing or vetoing bills, Newsom has a lot of decisions to make before the Sept. 30 constitutional deadline: As of Sunday, the governor had more than 900 measures on his desk, according to veteran Sacramento lobbyist Chris Micheli. Here’s a closer look at a few noteworthy ones:

  • One first-in-the-nation proposal would significantly expand privacy rights online for California kids under 18, including by blocking companies from intentionally using their information in a way materially detrimental to their wellbeing and by requiring products to make it obvious to kids when they’re being tracked, CalMatters’ Grace Gedye reports. The bill would authorize the state attorney general to sue companies as much as $7,500 per kid for intentional violations and would also create a new working group — made up of experts in kids’ data privacy, computer science, mental health and more — to make further recommendations to the Legislature. 
  • Revised budget bills would expand a state program to provide hearing aids to uninsured California children. The amendments were added following an investigation from CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera that found the program had provided devices to just 39 children in its first year despite a goal of reaching 2,300 kids annually. The proposed expansion would add about 2,000 currently ineligible, partially insured deaf or hard-of-hearing children up to age 21, Elizabeth reports. “For the families that weren’t eligible before, this is relief they have been waiting for a long time. Young adults who are aging out of the program will be able to stay on,” said Mike Odeh, senior director at Children Now. (Separately, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which administers health benefits for state and local government employees and retirees, announced that its basic plans will cover hearing aids for children starting in January 2023.)

3 Ballot measure updates

A person walks by as betting odds for the National Football League's Super Bowl 55 are displayed on monitors at the Circa resort and casino sports book in Las Vegas on Feb. 3, 2021. AP Photo/John Locher
Betting odds for Super Bowl LV are displayed at the Circa Resort and Casino Sports Book in Las Vegas on Feb. 3, 2021. Photo by John Locher, AP Photo

With $400 million, you could buy about 480 single-family homes in California at July’s median price of $833,910 — or you could bankroll a sizable portion of the campaigns behind two dueling sports betting measures on the Golden State’s November ballot. As of last week, the four main campaign committees on both sides of Propositions 26 and 27 had raised more than $402 million, according to a California Target Book analysis. That’s far and above the record $226 million spent in 2020 by committees supporting and opposing an initiative to exempt gig-economy companies from a controversial California labor law — and exemplifies just how expensive fights at the ballot box have become in the nation’s largest media market.

Skipping ahead to 2024, Californians will decide whether to repeal Article 34, a provision added to the state Constitution in 1950 requiring the approval of a majority of a community’s voters before the government can build public housing for low-income residents. The measure qualified for either the June or November 2024 ballot after two-thirds of lawmakers in both the state Assembly and Senate greenlighted it before the legislative session ended last week. This marks the fourth time lawmakers have asked voters to repeal or weaken the 1950 provision that sailed to victory following a real-estate funded campaign that appealed to racist fears about neighborhood integration and to concerns about socialism, according to the Los Angeles Times. The three prior efforts — the last of which was in 1993 — failed by large margins. The California Association of Realtors, which supported the 1993 measure, is also expected to contribute financially to the 2024 campaign.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom has denounced two Republican governors as “bullies,” but that may be the pot calling the kettle black.

This is the time to transform sports betting: With sports gambling on the November ballot, California is in a unique position to make the industry fairer, safer and more reliable for bettors, argues Quemars Ahmed, former editor-in-chief of the UCLA Law Review.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

Citing extreme heat, federal judge extends ban on Sacramento clearing homeless camps. // Sacramento Bee

Bass and Caruso have talked big on homelessness. Now they’re offering some details. // Los Angeles Times

Newsom quashes bill to provide more funding for Black students. // EdSource

How one Oakland school is using California’s billion-dollar investment in student mental health. // KQED

Should libraries be part of homeless solutions? San Diego thinks so. // San Diego Union-Tribune

California school district tries new way to retain teachers: low-cost apartments on school property. // CBS News

Milpitas school district asks parents to rent to struggling teachers. // Mercury News

Some Sacramento renters are forming unions as rent climbs. // Sacramento Bee

4,000 Google cafeteria workers quietly unionized during the pandemic. // Washington Post

Downtown San Jose struggling, but not like San Francisco, as workers say ‘nope’ to the office. // Mercury News

San Diego’s smaller workforce: Where did the workers go? // San Diego Union-Tribune

The U.S. is bringing chip-making home. Is California ready? // Mercury News

The front-runner in Oakland mayor’s race? There isn’t one. // San Francisco Chronicle

In the California desert, LGBTQ voters could sway a key House race. // New York Times

‘Frozen in animosity’: Do San Francisco City Hall politics need to be so toxic? // San Francisco Chronicle

How a gang rivalry led to the slaying of DA Jenkins’ relative, police say. // San Francisco Standard

California police officers have killed nearly 1,000 people in 6 years. // San Francisco Chronicle

Persistent medical staffing shortages in San Diego jails are causing lapses in care, driving down morale. // San Diego Union-Tribune

More than 2,000 L.A. patients unknowingly received a diluted dose of the Pfizer vaccine. // L.A. Taco

California biotech executive guilty in $77 million blood-testing scheme. // New York Times

Residents forced to sell homes as part of earthquake upgrade at largest reservoir in Santa Clara County. // Mercury News

California water agencies brace for Colorado River cuts. // Los Angeles Times

Central California shoulders the drought’s inequities. // Los Angeles Times

Poop and pee fueled the huge algae bloom in San Francisco Bay. Fixing the problem could cost $14 billion. // San Francisco Chronicle

California looks to spur e-bike adoption with new incentive program. // KPBS Public Media

See you tomorrow


Tips, insight or feedback? Email emily@calmatters.org.

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