There’s another big story out there from the fires that hasn’t really been told: excuse the vernacular, BUT MEXICO SAVED OUR ASS!
It’s a story that has been under-reported. At least Union Tribune writer Craig D. Rose acknowledged the tip of it in his November 13th major front-page piece, “Power Links In Peril?”, with a sub-head of “Fires nearly caused electricity crisis for which San Diego wasn’t prepared”. It’s a story many of us saw or read. But there is one little piece that needs to be pulled from obscurity and pushed to the front of the news line.
During the fires, by nightfall Tuesday, October 23th, the vice president of electricity distribution for SDG&E – our utility – David Grier, found out from fire authorities that the Horno fire was burning across the Marine base at Camp Pendleton and was threatening San Diego’s major north-south transmission line. The Southwest line was already out of service by that time, and San Diego was looking like it was to become “an electrical island” – only an option of last resort – since no one here knew how to operate one. Rose, the reporter, states:
San Diego did have an additional resource – a connection with the grid in Baja California, which was providing badly needed electricity to San Diego during the wildfires.
Intrigued with this statement, I wanted more info. During the fires, we heard about the 4, then 5, now 6 migrant deaths, and how 11 of the 18 severe burn victims were undocumented and how their hospitalization was placing a heavy burden on us tax payers, about how a Mexican family was accused of looting at Qualcomm and subsequently arrested and deported by the Border Patrol. So, this story of the Baja grid providing San Diego County with “badly needed electricity” seemed a good thing that just had not gotten out there in the public consciousness in all the talk about the fires.
A day later, I emailed Mr. Rose to inquire whether he had any additional information. In responding, Rose said that the Baja line was supplying an estimated 200 megawatts. He explained, “One megawatt is sufficient to power 650 to 800 homes. So we’re talking about enough electricity for at least 130,000 residences.” This sounds like Mexico was supplying roughly one-tenth of the electricity to SDG&E’s estimated 1.4 million customers. Actually, using his own numbers, it also could mean power for up to 160,000 residences. Okay, even better.
Not finding any additional local media reports on this intriguing aspect of the fires, I looked up other news sources. On Wednesday, October 24th, iterating much of what Rose stated later, Reuters reported:
A minor link to Mexico that has been pressed into service now has fire under it and may have to shut as well, California power officials said Wednesday afternoon. …
… SDG&E has two major links to the rest of the U.S. Western power grid. The Southwest Powerlink connects to Arizona and has been shut since Sunday. … the utility hoped Southwest Powerlink could reopen in the next 24 to 48 hours and that it could possibly be back Wednesday night.
The other transmission link with three 230-kilovolt lines and connects to Southern California Edison lines to the north near San Onofre nuclear power plant, has been flickering on and off since Tuesday. All three lines have been shut on at least eight occasions Wednesday, SDG&E said.
The 230-KV link to Mexico under threat of shutting is called the Talega-Escondido line. On Wednesday it was importing to SDG&E about 200 megawatts of power.
Okay, Reuters had more details, and both they and Rose concur the Mexican power line had about 200 megawatts of power. The Talega-Escondido line, a 230-kilovolt transmission line was “a minor line” that our utility had tapped into during the crisis. This is all good and neighborly.
Yet the full extent of this neighborly “gesture” by Mexico wasn’t made clear until I saw an article in “Transmission and Distribution”, which appears to be an electrical industry website.
Published October 29th, the article, entitled, ” Electricity Industry Unites to Restore Transmission Grid,” was primarily an expression of acknowledgement and thanks from the California Independent System Operator Corp. — all the utilities — to the many utility line workers, up and down the state, who cooperated to re-establish the state’s power lines and grid.
Half-way down the article, it stated:
On Wednesday, the San Diego area was hanging onto the western grid by only one 230kV line. Over one 24-hour period, several 230kV lines that link Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric at the San Onofre power plant tripped in and out of service at least 25 times.
And finally, the article’s very last sentence, acknowledged Mexico’s role:
Emergency power was also supplied by Mexico’s Comisión Federal de Electricidad, which was critical to maintaining reliability on Wednesday when San Diego nearly disconnected from the larger western grid.
Okay, more recognition that Mexico – the “Baja line” – had helped us out. At the moment that San Diego was “nearly disconnected from the larger western grid,” the County received “critical” emergency power from our neighbor to the south. This is all well and fine.
But wait a minute … let me recheck those numbers. On Wednesday, October 24, “the San Diego area was hanging onto the western grid by only one 230kV line,” according to the electrical industry. And according to Reuters, the transmission line from Mexico is also a 230-kilovolt power line.
So, what this means is that, on Wednesday, October 24th, in the midst of the worst firestorms in our recent history, San Diego was on the verge of losing ALL OF ITS ELECTRICAL POWER EXCEPT FOR THE ONE LINE FROM MEXICO. One line from Mexico was all we had that day.
The entire county would have been thrown into an even worst catastrophe if we had lost all our power. Think of that! 600,000 evacuees lost in the darkness, and the rest of us looking for our candles. No TV, no internet, no lights. MEXICO SAVED OUR ASS — and we didn’t even know it.
THANKS MEXICO – from the people of San Diego County. You saved us.