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LOS ANGELES — Heading into one of the busiest holiday travel weekends in the United States, and just a week after approving a bold plan to ban the sale of new gasoline cars, California asked electric vehicle owners this week to limit when they plugged in to charge.
The California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power grid, sent a Flex Alert asking all residents to voluntarily reduce their electricity use between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday and warned that more alerts were possible through the Labor Day weekend.
Temperatures were expected to soar into the triple digits in many parts of the state. High temperatures push up the demand for energy as people crank up their air-conditioners. The state operator also urged residents to conserve power by setting their thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, avoiding the use of major appliances and turning off unnecessary lights.
It is not the first time extreme heat has affected drivers of electric vehicles. Last month, a heat wave in China created havoc for drivers, according to reporting by MIT Technology Review. During a Texas heat wave in July, Tesla also asked its customers to avoid charging their cars at peak times.
The California restrictions were greeted with derision from conservative media, Republicans and advocates for the coal and gas industries who have opposed efforts to reduce the carbon emissions that are driving global climate change.
“This from the same state that’s going to force everyone to buy electric cars by 2035,” Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House minority whip, said on Twitter. “This is what Democrat control looks like — and they want it nationwide. What a joke.”
The Flex Alert came as California legislators rushed to send a number of climate bills to Gov. Gavin Newsom around midnight Wednesday, including a record $54 billion in spending, sharp new restrictions on oil and gas drilling and a mandate that the state stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by 2045.
A spokeswoman for the governor, Erin Mellon, said that the request to avoid charging electrical vehicles has been misrepresented by critics of California’s efforts to curb emissions.
“We’re not saying don’t charge them,” she said. “We’re just saying don’t charge them between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m.”
Experts acknowledge that moving to more electric vehicles in the coming years will present a challenge, and part of that challenge is building a grid that is up to the task. But they said it was laughable to call a few hours of voluntary charging limits a sign of failure.
“Nobody charges during those times anyway,” said Elaine Borseth, the president of the Electric Vehicle Association, an advocacy group. “It costs more.”
Even outside of a heat wave, those hours tend to be the most expensive to plug in an electric vehicle, because there is the most demand on the grid around that time, as people arrive home and many business remain open. It is also when renewable sources of energy, such as solar, are dropping off the grid for the day.
Ms. Borseth said that when she’s charging her own vehicle, a Tesla Model S, in off-peak hours, she usually pays about 24 cents per kilowatt. The same charge could cost her more than 50 cents per kW during the peak window, she said. “That’s the biggest incentive.” According to Energy Sage, an online marketplace funded by the U.S. government, in general, the per-mile cost of charging an electric vehicle is only about 29 percent of the cost of fueling a gas-powered compact sedan.
In California, E.V. owners have to be savvy, because the state has among the highest electricity prices in the country, noted Tyson Siegele, an energy analyst with the Protect Our Communities Foundation, which advocates for clean energy use. But the transition to renewable energy would ultimately lower costs, he said. “California is experiencing growing pains, just like any transition to a new and better technology.”
The current heat wave that led to the Flex Alert is part of a pattern linked by scientists to climate change. Periods of extreme heat are becoming more frequent, hotter and longer lasting than in previous decades. The federal National Climate Assessment noted in 2018 that their frequency had jumped from an average of two per year in the 1960s to six per year by the 2010s. The season has stretched 45 days longer than it was in the 1960s, according to the report.
Over the next several days, the prolonged and possibly record heat wave will build across the Western U.S., including California, and temperatures will remain high at night, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures in the mid to upper 90s and lower 100s, the service said, would likely beat records in many places. Many places from Nevada to Washington have already set records. That will make it harder for California to import power from neighboring grids, the state operator said.
In a news conference Wednesday, Governor Newsom said that heat waves had “never been more challenging” and highlighted the urgent need to accelerate the transition to renewable energy.
“We have been trying to outrun Mother Nature,” Mr. Newsom added. “But it’s pretty clear that Mother Nature has outrun us.”
Shawn Hubler and Ivan Penn contributed reporting.
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