Fact check: California didn’t require electric car owners to stop charging in heat wave

The claim: California told electric vehicle owners to not charge their cars because of a power shortage

As a record-setting heat wave swept across the Western U.S. in June, the organization that oversees most of California’s power grid sounded the alarm for residents to cut electricity consumption to avoid outages.

The “Flex Alert” issued by the California Independent System Operator on June 17 was meant to ease the strain on the power grid by encouraging residents to avoid activities that draw heavy electricity during peak hours. That included running major appliances or lowering thermostats.

But it did not tell electric vehicle owners they couldn’t charge their cars, as a June 21 Facebook post claims. The post said the state “literally” told electric vehicle owners not to charge their cars.

One version of the post has been shared more than 3,000 times. The Facebook user who shared the post did not respond to a request for comment.

The California ISO Flex Alert was voluntary and recommended residents curb electricity usage from 5-10 p.m. It encouraged electric vehicle owners to charge their cars before the alert began.

It did not ask electric vehicle owners to stop charging their cars altogether.

“We have encouraged consumers to charge EVs before a Flex Alert begins. Flex Alerts are voluntary calls for consumer conservation, and the program’s messaging emphasizes shifting energy consumption – not sacrificing,” Vonette Fontaine, a California ISO spokesperson, said in an email.

Heat wave draws on power grid

California ISO issued its Flex Alert as high temperatures baked big portions of the Western U.S., including the Golden State. The organization oversees the grid for about 80% of California and part of Nevada.

Two dozen sites with at least 75 years of data set June heat records between June 13 and 19, Alex Lamers, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in a June 21 tweet. Palm Springs tied an all-time record high at 123 degrees.

The June 16 alert warned of “extreme heat” that would stress grid operations, particularly in the evening when solar power diminishes but demand remains high. Taking voluntary conservation steps could help California avoid rotating power outages, it said.

“The statewide call for conservation is critical because when temperatures hit triple digits across a wide geographic area, no state has enough energy available to meet all the heightened demand, primarily due to air conditioning use,” according to the alert.

Between 5-10 p.m., Californians were asked to set thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, avoid using major appliances, turn off unnecessary lights, use fans instead of air conditioning and unplug unused items. The alert was in place on June 17-18.

California ISO also suggested residents lower their thermostats earlier in the day to “pre-cool” their homes and charge electric vehicles before the alert was in effect.

It did not require electric vehicle owners to stop charging their cars.

Tesla Inc. electric vehicle at a supercharger station on January 4, 2021 in Redondo Beach, California. (Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

Our rating: False

The claim that California told electric vehicle owners to not charge their cars because of a power shortage is FALSE. The group that oversees the state’s power grid recommended electric vehicle owners charge their cars when electricity demand was lower to help reduce energy usage and prevent outages. The “Flex Alert” was voluntary.

Our fact-check sources:

  • California Independent System Operator, June 16, ISO issues Flex Alert for energy conservation tomorrow
  • Flex Alert, accessed June 23, Energy conservation during a Flex Alert can help prevent rotating power outages
  • The Los Angeles Times, June 17, What you need to do during California’s Flex Alert power emergency
  • NPR, June 19, The Record Temperatures Enveloping The West Are Not Your Average Heat Wave
  • California Independent System Operator, accessed June 23, About Us
  • Twitter, June 21, NOAA Meteorologist Alex Lamers
  • California Independent System Operator, June 18, Second day of Flex Alert is 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. today
  • The New York Times, June 23, Why Are Californians Being Asked to Turn Up the Heat?
  • Fox News, June 17, CA power grid operator issues Flex Alert, asks residents to cut back on power usage
  • KSBY, June 17, California’s power grid operator warns of potential for rotating outages
  • Vonette Fontaine, California ISO spokesperson, June 23, email interview

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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

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