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As Heatwave Continues, Arizona Power Companies Ask Customers To Conserve Energy

It’s not just Arizona — the heatwave we are currently melting in is happening across the entire Western region.

California is experiencing a statewide energy emergency the likes of which have not been seen since 2001. It’s triggering rolling blackouts as the state grapples with increased demand. The state’s grid operator is asking customers to reduce their energy use, including keeping their thermostats set at higher temperatures than they may like as the region is pummeled by a heat wave.

And now two of Arizona’s largest utilities are doing the same as we are all living through one of the state’s hottest summers on record. Arizona Public Service (APS) and Tucson Electric Power put out a call Aug. 19 asking customers to conserve energy, especially during peak hours. They extended that request Wednesday and asked customers to use less electricity between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.

SRP joined in Wednesday, urging conservation between 3 to 9 p.m.

APS suggests waiting until after 8 p.m. to run dishwashers, clothes washers, pool pumps and driers.

“This is purely voluntary, we have sufficient supply and we have available reserve power," said APS spokeswoman Jill Hanks. "But we just want to plan for unforeseen events. We don’t anticipate having to take extreme measures like are happening in California, so we want to be prepared so that we don’t have to do anything like that.”

The company suggested running dryers and dishwashers in the evening and cutting back on operation of pool pumps. The utilities said they may extend the request if needed to ease pressure on the grid.

On July 30, APS customers set a record for electricity demand at 7,659 megawatts. The previous record was 7,363 megawatts, set in June 2017.

There is the possibility that demand could exceed what utilities have prepared for, and Arizona Corporation Commissioner Lea Marquez Peterson wants to make sure they are ready. In a lettercalling for an emergency meeting with the utilities, Marquez Peterson wrote, “The thought of telling Arizonans to restrict their air conditioning use during this time, or of not having power at all when Arizonans need electricity the most, is unfathomable.”

The Show spoke more about this with Brad Albert, APS’s vice president of resource management. The interview began with just how taxed the grid is right now.

BRAD ALBERT: Yeah, we are all across the West pretty much at full capacity in terms of the ability to produce power for customers because this heat wave, in kind of contrast to a lot of the heat waves we see, this one's widespread. Even up into Portland, Oregon. I know Portland over the weekend hit 100 degrees. And so that's just a good indication of how widespread this heat wave is.

LAUREN GILGER: How is APS prepared for this kind of heat? Like, we know every summer we're going to hit a new record at this point. But this is unprecedented — this many days above 110. How do you prepare for something like this?

ALBERT: This, this certainly is a summer for the record books, but we do prepare years in advance for this, Lauren. And as you mentioned, I think earlier, the temperatures that we're seeing in Arizona are not unexpected for us. In fact, this is the type of thing that we plan for. Now, this weather event is more extreme because of the long-lasting nature of it. It just kind of keeps going on and on. But we've been planning for years for, to be able to meet our customer demand for these type of temperature conditions.

GILGER: So how has the pandemic affected things, like in terms of preparing or anticipating changes in demand? Are you seeing higher demand, do you think, because more people are at home more often?

ALBERT: Lauren, that's an unanswered question for me, and I have the same question in my mind. I think, for one thing, the pandemic has introduced a larger degree of uncertainty in terms of predicting our customer behavior, because we don't necessarily know how schools, businesses are going to be running or if they will be running in their normal pattern. Obviously, we do know that there's a lot more residential customers — people that are working from home, school children that are at home. We have thought that that, the impact of businesses being a little bit slower than normal and customers being home, that the two largely offset each other from a customer consumption perspective. But even a one or 2%, if we're off on that, it does make a difference in terms of consumption levels.

GILGER: Do you feel our energy portfolio is, is diverse enough to meet the current need? Like, Arizona is different from California in this way, right?

ALBERT: Very much so. California has been ahead of the curve in terms of introducing renewable energy and solar energy to the grid. We have a lot here in Arizona. Make no mistake about it, we've made a lot of progress on solar energy. One of the interesting things about California that they pointed out [Aug. 18] during a board meeting for the California Independent System Operator that I was listening to was, they haven't had the right focus on, focusing not necessarily on the peak consumption hour for customers when customer usage peaks, but it might be more constraining from an overall supply perspective, let's say the hour after that, when customer demand is still high, but a lot of that solar generation has disappeared from the grid because the sun has gone down. And the challenge that we saw them have on [Aug. 14] and [Aug. 15] was just in those timeframes when the sun has gone down, and all of the, you know, solar generation out in California stopped producing. That that became a much more limiting and constraining timeframe for them.

GILGER: So, as we've said, California is experiencing this heat wave. Arizona is breaking records. The region across the West is hot right now. And, you know, researchers say this could really be the new normal. How are we prepared for that reality in the future?

ALBERT: We will keep adjusting our plans as we learn more about either temperature conditions, customer consumption patterns. Our planning processes and planning for the future, Lauren, are very much ongoing processes that we are concentrating on all the time. Our commission, the Arizona Corporation Commission, also has what is called an integrated resource planning process, where these type of issues are focused on and studied and are part of the planning process for utilities like us to be able to meet customer demand.

GILGER: How has the potential for this kind of ever rising demand played a role in the recent clean energy commitments?

ALBERT: However, we are meeting our customer demand, whether it's with increasingly clean energy resources, which is exactly what our plan is, we still have to make sure that we are serving demand — our customer demand — reliably. And that means in all hours of the day, not just the sunlight hours where we might have plenty of solar power being produced, but those hours in the early evening when our customer demand is still high, but the solar generation is starting to, you know, drop off the system. We need to make sure that our studies and the work that we are doing ensures reliable service during all of those hours. That's, that's a critical component of being able to transition to clean energy.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.