Embed

Share

Deadly heat waves are going to become more frequent according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change. Ryan Sartor (@ryansartor) has that story. Buzz60

Crew members building the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway take a break as they try to keep hydrated and stay cool as temperatures climb to near-record highs on June 20, 2017, in Phoenix.(Photo: Ross D. Franklin, AP)

 

Unprecedented temperatures across the Southwest pushed power companies into uncharted territory last week as they shattered records for electricity use.

As people from California to Texas cranked up their air conditioners, at least eight utilities across five states saw electricity use reach all-time highs, meaning they provided more simultaneous power than ever before.

The records were a scorching reminder that Americans are already experiencing a rise in extreme heat that scientists attribute to climate change. The number of days with highs above 95 degrees has risen substantially in many places, according to a recent analysis by Climate Central, an independent, non-profit research and news organization that analyzes and reports on climate science.

Record-breaking demand for electricity is likely to continue, said Maximilian Auffhammer, an environmental economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who wrote a paper on the subject in February. Hot states with growing populations, such as Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, will feel the biggest impact, he said.

When Phoenix hit a record 119 degrees on June 20, Arizona’s three largest utilities all broke their records for most simultaneous electricity use. Salt River Project, which serves 1 million electric customers in the Phoenix area, actually set records twice — first on June 19, when demand hit 6,981 megawatts, then again the next day, when customers used 7,219 megawatts. The utility’s previous record, set last summer, was 6,873 megawatts.

Such records are nothing new for El Paso Electric Company, which serves 400,000 customers in west Texas and southern New Mexico. El Paso Electric has surpassed its previous peak energy usage 16 out of the last 17 years, the company said in a statement. It attributes the high demand to more air conditioners, more people and hotter weather.

The power company set its latest record on June 22, when the temperature in El Paso reached 109 degrees — one degree shy of the all-time high temperature for that day and 12 degrees above average.

Sweltering heat in California also led to record electricity demand in Roseville, a city of more than 125,000 people north of Sacramento. The municipal utility there surpassed its previous megawatt record by 4%. Turlock Irrigation District — a Central Valley water agency that also sells electricity to nearly 100,000 homes and businesses — provided 644 megawatts of power on June 19, surpassing a previous high of 608 megawatts.

Other utilities that set electricity use records included Imperial Irrigation District in inland Southern California and Arizona’s Trico Electric Cooperative, which broke its old record several times by the end of last week.

Southern Nevada’s Overton Power District No. 5 tied its peak demand record and set a new high mark for June as temperatures soared to 117 degrees on June 19. Several other utilities set monthly records, including Sacramento Municipal Utilities District and Modesto Irrigation District in California’s Central Valley, which saw its second-highest demand ever.

Xaviere Coleman pours water over his head to cool off in a Wookiee costume along the Las Vegas Strip, June 20, 2017, in Las Vegas. Coleman was taking a break from posing for photographs with tourists. (Photo: John Locher, AP)

Texas also set a monthly record — twice. The Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the power grid for most of the state, said its customers used 67,512 megawatts of power on Friday afternoon, beating the previous high mark for June by nearly 1,000 megawatts. The new monthly record was broken again less than two hours later.

ERCOT expects to break its all-time demand record of 71,110 megawatts this summer, potentially reaching close to 73,000 megawatts, spokesperson Leslie Sopko said.

As peak electricity use trends upward, power companies say they can meet the demand — at least for the foreseeable future. Regional regulators require utilities to keep backup power in reserve.

But Auffhammer, the UC Berkeley professor, says demand will continue to grow and utilities will have to take steps meet the demand. If power companies look only to natural gas-fired power plants, it could cost them about $180 billion by the end of the century, Auffhammer said.

More energy-efficient appliances and better battery technology paired with solar and wind power could mitigate those costs, he said.

“People like to have their lights on, and they like to be able to operate their air conditioner when they need it,” Auffhammer said. “In order to make sure we’re going to have these electricity services we need or these cooling services we want, we can either become more efficient or we can put more (power plants) online.”

Sammy Roth writes about energy and the environment for The Desert Sun. He can be reached at sammy.roth@desertsun.com. Follow him on Twitter @Sammy_Roth.