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Opinion
Liam Denning

California's Terrible Deluge Hides a Silver Lining

Its major reservoirs are filling up, promising to support the electricity grid during the state’s summer blackout season.

The water level at Lake Oroville, California’s second-largest reservoir, is seeing a dramatic rise. 

The water level at Lake Oroville, California’s second-largest reservoir, is seeing a dramatic rise. 

Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images North America
Corrected

California is an elemental maelstrom branded as a laid-back idyll; a “beautiful fraud” as environmentalist Marc Reisner put it . The pitch has faltered in recent years, as first wildfires and now torrential rains have claimed lives, wrecked infrastructure and displaced whole towns. Yet the atmospheric rivers deluging the state today may offer a silver lining of sorts later this year, during California’s summer blackout season.

Risk of wildfires is one factor that can prompt electricity shutoffs in California during the summer. A more prosaic reason is that hot evenings can raise demand for air conditioning just as the sunset switches off the state’s vast, but variable, solar energy, pushing the grid to its limits (see this). Recent summers have seen Sacramento resorting to appeals for power conservation and even emergency payments for backyard generators to keep the lights on during heatwaves.