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Should We Be Worried About Blackouts During This Weekend's Heatwave?

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Demand for electricity peaks in the summer and can cause rolling blackouts

Temperatures will spike this weekend upwards of 100 degrees. There are only a couple of things that make searing heat like that bearable: the beach, and for everyone who's not on the Westside, air conditioning.

That strains the power grid, but the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power says it has a plan to prevent rolling blackouts this summer.

That plan, however, is likely to dirty our air.

Air quality officials voted this week to allow DWP to skirt pollution regulations and burn diesel fuel at several Southern California power plants. Normally the plants run on natural gas, but because of the disastrous blowout at SoCal Gas’s Aliso Canyon storage facility, supply might fall short during summer, when demand for power is typically highest.

Air quality officials are giving DWP 90 days, from now until September 13, to burn diesel fuel as a last resort. Diesel fuel produces nearly 40 percent more carbon dioxide emissions than natural gas, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

DWP is only allowed to make the switch to diesel "if the natural gas supply ... is curtailed by SoCalGas." That means that if the possibility of a gas shortage has been exaggerated by SoCal Gas, as some have suggested, DWP might not actually need to change fuel sources.

The Souther California Air Quality Management District's executive officer Wayne Nastri says allowing the power plants to use diesel power would "result in less air pollution than would otherwise occur from the use of thousands of significantly dirtier diesel backup generators at many hospitals, police stations and businesses."

But former city councilman Nate Holden, who will join the air quality district's board next month, told the Los Angeles Times the board rushed into its decision without exploring other ways to keep the plants running through the summer.

If DWP does end up burning diesel fuel this summer, it will come at a price. The department will have to pay $150,000 in environmental fees, plus $100,000 each day diesel fuel is used. That money will be used to purchase air filters and electric buses for schools close to the three plants in Long Beach, Wilmington, and Sun Valley.