Suzette Martinez Valladares | Energy Grid Faces Critical Challenges

Suzette Martinez Valladares, Right Here, Right Now

My daughter Charlotte is just one week away from completing her first year of school and transitioning to first grade. Kindergarten was amazing, but now we are eagerly anticipating a break from early alarms and the hectic morning school routine. 

We can’t wait for summer barbecues, dips in the pool, evenings on the patio and a couple of road trips. However, there are a few things that dampen everyone’s summer excitement: the sky-high air conditioning bills, soaring gas prices and the looming potential widespread grid failure.

Last year, California came perilously close to a complete breakdown of its energy grid. In September, during scorching summer months, the Newsom administration issued statewide text messages urging residents to conserve energy. Even owners of electric vehicles received notifications, instructing them not to charge their cars.

Despite a relatively cool spring, some predict record-breaking summer heat. We’ll see, but we do know Californians will be consuming lots of energy and gearing up for “possible rolling blackouts.”

California must address the deficiencies in its energy grid, increase energy storage capacity, aggressively expand renewable energy sources, halt the divisive approach toward fossil fuels, and establish a Western Grid Regionalization.

Right now, California may already be on the brink of disaster.

A regional or widespread blackout in California will have severe repercussions for all of us. Homes, businesses, hospitals and critical infrastructure would be left without power. The loss of essential functions like lighting, heating, cooling and refrigeration would pose serious public safety and health risks. Not to mention communication system disruptions, affecting landline phones, cell phone networks and internet access. 

This would compromise emergency response efforts, hinder information dissemination and create challenges in coordinating relief operations. Moreover, water supply systems dependent on electricity would experience disruptions, impacting access to clean water for drinking and sanitation.

Even a few days of blackout, let alone an extended period, will bring significant economic consequences for workers. Forced closures would result in lost pay, financial hardships and potential job cuts. Businesses relying on electricity, such as manufacturing and technology, would be severely affected. The tourism sector and attractions like Magic Mountain would also suffer.

Although this may sound somewhat apocalyptic, the threat is real. California has struggled to meet its energy demands for decades, a contributing factor to the successful recall of Gov. Gray Davis. One major challenge lies in renewable energy production’s inability to meet the surging demands during unprecedented heat waves.

Sixty-two percent of the state’s grid is powered by renewable sources like wind, solar, hydropower and nuclear. Last year, I voted to keep the Diablo Nuclear Plant near San Luis Obispo open because it was crucial for meeting energy needs and preventing imminent blackouts. The plant provides energy to over 3 million people, which represents 10% of our energy gid. 

Lastly, California imports 30% of its energy from other states.

Finding solutions is the California Problem Solvers Caucus, a group I was affiliated with in the Legislature and they are committed to innovative and balanced policies.

While I was serving in the Legislature my visit to the California Independent System Operator, the entity responsible for monitoring electricity flow and operating the wholesale energy market, revealed the necessity of investing in grid modernization technologies. Advanced sensors, smart meters and digital communication systems enable real-time monitoring, improved energy flow management, and faster identification and response to grid issues.

Furthermore, increasing energy storage systems’ production and deployment, such as batteries, pumped hydro storage and thermal storage, is crucial. These storage solutions can store excess renewable energy generated during low-demand periods and discharge it during peak demand, alleviating strain on the grid and enhancing flexibility.

 Continued growth in renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal power, nuclear, and hydrogen fuel is key, especially for trucks and agricultural vehicles. Streamlining permits for hydrogen and nuclear energy projects, which are proving to be cleaner and more cost-effective alternatives to fossil fuels, is imperative.

When it comes to fossil fuels, we should be supporting California production — which is cleaner, provides mortgage-paying jobs and moves us toward energy independence.

Further, through regional energy collaboration, California can leverage neighboring states’ strengths and resources to enhance grid reliability, increase renewable energy integration, and achieve a more sustainable and resilient energy system.

California has the potential to improve its energy grid, ensuring reliability, resilience, sustainability and reduced energy costs, and take a leadership role in achieving energy independence. 

These solutions are possible, but it requires us to be bolder and more visionary.

Suzette Martinez Valladares is Santa Clarita’s former assemblywoman, wife, girl mom, avid DIY’er and a monthly contributor to The Signal’s “Right, Here Right Now,” which appears Saturdays and rotates among local Republicans.

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