Thousand in Bay Area, NorCal lose power in rolling blackout order issued by mistake

ALAMEDA — Thousands of homes in Alameda, Healdsburg, Palo Alto and other Northern California cities lost power Tuesday evening following miscommunication about rolling blackouts.

The cities’ power is provided by the Northern California Power Agency – a consortium of local power agencies separate from Pacific Gas and Electric –  which reportedly received an order from the California Independent Systems Operator (CAISO) to begin the blackouts following an Emergency Energy Alert 3 Tuesday evening. The alert warns that rolling outages are imminent or in process and is initiated when CAISO determines load shedding is necessary. 

However, CAISO issued a statement that there were no rolling blackouts ordered, crediting power customers’ conservation efforts as the state’s total energy usage load reached record levels.

In a statement Wednesday, Alameda Municipal Power blamed NCPA for the erroneous blackout order.

Yesterday, at about 5:45 p.m., after the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) issued a level 3 power emergency, the Northern California Power Agency (NCPA) instructed Alameda Municipal Power (AMP) to begin load shedding operations. NCPA is AMP’s electric load scheduler and is responsible for communicating CAISO directives to many of the public utilities in Northern California, including Alameda Municipal Power. If NCPA instructs us to drop load, AMP must act.

In total, 1400 customers were without power from approximately 6:05 p.m. to 7:05 p.m.

In conjunction with NCPA working with the CAISO, we are working to clarify procedures to ensure unnecessary outages do not occur moving forward. We thank you all for your patience and support as we navigate these dynamic situations that change frequently.  

During such blackouts, customers typically lose power for about an hour before the outage rolls over to another load block.

Elliott Mainzer, CEO of CAISO, told Bay Area News Group Wednesday that NCPA misunderstood the power operator’s order to prepare for possible rotating outages.

“There was apparently some level of confusion between our dispatchers and their dispatchers about what was being requested,” Mainzer told Bay Area News Group. “We did not need nor was it our intention to signal the need for rotating outages … We’ll work with them to ensure there is no miscommunication tonight.”

NCPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

CAISO said Tuesday’s peak electricity demand reached 52,061 megawatts, breaking a record set in 2006.

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