Environment & Science

Record heat triggers record LA power use

The Los Angles Aqueduct powers turbines inside a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power hydroelectric power plant in San Francisquito Canyon On Sept. 28, 2016.
The Los Angles Aqueduct powers turbines inside a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power hydroelectric power plant in San Francisquito Canyon On Sept. 28, 2016.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Los Angeles city homes and businesses set a record demand for power use during last week’s heat wave, the city's utility reported Tuesday. 

The all-time record for power use was set Thursday as Angelenos drew 6,502 megawatts of power from the grid, said Joseph Ramallo, a spokesman for the L..A. Department of Water and Power. That was more than 100 megawatts more than the previous one-day record of 6,396 megawatts set on September 16, 2014.

Friday’s power consumption also exceeded the 2014 record, going down as the second biggest single day at 6,430. One megawatt is about enough power for 500 homes, Ramallo said.

The city has the capacity to generate or buy as much as 7,000 megawatts of electricity from gas-fired plants, solar and wind sources, so while last week’s power demands got close to the limit, supply was not a problem.

The challenge was the high demand coupled with DWP's aging distribution system. 

“The poles wires, cables, transformers that go across the city to distribute that electricity when you get it in, was extremely taxed,” Ramallo said.

Years of putting off some maintenance tasks and equipment upgrades has left some parts of the system weakened. And the heat stressed some of it to breaking point, Ramallo said.

Beginning in 2000, the DWP began deferring maintenance on some equipment to save money, and the utility went for many years without rate increases, causing some equipment to fail years before its predicted lifespan, Ramallo said A rate increase approved last year has enabled the DWP to accelerate the replacement of major equipment.

In Boyle Heights and Northridge, DWP used rolling outages  that cut power to customers for an hour at a time to stretch the power supply while workers made repairs at two different power stations. Boyle Heights' rolling outages were on Aug. 30 and 31. The Northridge outages were on Aug. 30.

And about 300 customers in Panorama City were without power for 15 to 19 hours on Aug. 29, Ramallo said.

More than 100,000 DWP customers lost power at some point during the hot week, with a peak of 15,000 customers without service at the height of the outages.