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Electric firms brace for peak demand

Metro West: Utilities insist they are prepared but urge conservation to ease the crunch.

By Bruce C. Smith

Indianapolis Star

June 16, 2000

Metro West-area electric companies are better prepared this summer for the peak power demand that nearly exceeded supplies last year, but they're still urging conservation.

"We have done a lot, but things will still be tight this summer," said Cinergy Inc. spokeswoman Angeline Protogere.

Meanwhile, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission also is taking a long-term look at the regulations, technology and trends affecting the reliability of the state's electric service.

The first public, daylong session is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. June 30 in room TC-10 of the Government Center South building in Indianapolis.

Vicky Bailey, president of PSI Energy Inc., a Plainfield-based division of Cinergy, called the power crisis last year a "wake-up call to the entire nation."

She said recently, "(We have) a glimpse into a more energy-uncertain world, and it requires that we address the growing strain on our nation's electricity supplies."

Heat waves and other conditions the past two summers used up the reserve capacity of Cinergy and other Hoosier power suppliers, bringing them very close to outages or brown-outs.

Cinergy was chastised by industry groups last year for taking too much from the interstate power supplies.

Questions about the same problems were raised this week when nearly 25,000 Cinergy customers in Hendricks and nearby counties were in the dark Tuesday afternoon.

Protogere said the widespread outage began when a logger toppled a tree onto a main power line near Cloverdale about 2:40 p.m. Another line near Thorntown also was hit by a tree about 4 p.m. And then, shortly after 5 p.m., a third main line into the county snapped.

She said the three separate incidents combined to affect much of the county, but they were not caused by a shortage of electricity, an unusually high demand or extreme summer heat.

Those are problems that top managers of nearly all Hoosier electric companies had to explain last month in a series of meetings with the IURC.

"They all said they have learned from the problems of 1998 and '99, and they will be better prepared this summer," said IURC spokesman Ryan Soultz.

Protogere said Cinergy has urged all of its 655,000 customers in 69 Indiana counties to conserve power in any way possible. A new e-mail and fax system has been created to send advice, notices and warnings to 30,000 business customers of Cinergy power.

The company has spent more than $8 million to upgrade the cooling towers at a Cinergy coal-fired generating plant on the Wabash River to increase the plant's capacity.

Five new merchant power generating plants, powered by natural gas and scattered statewide, contribute more than 1,600 megawatts to the interstate power grid.

More peaking plants are proposed, including one for near Cloverdale and Belle Union in Putnam County, just a few miles west of Hendricks and Morgan counties.

Cinergy has worked out contracts to curtail power to some very large industrial users if the electricity is critically needed for homes, hospitals and other places.

And, Protogere said, Cinergy has other new contracts to buy power from the wholesale market.

But despite all the efforts to ensure a dependable supply, Protogere warned, "No utility can guarantee power supplies under any and all conditions, because there are factors out of your control."

Indianapolis Power & Light Co., which has about 6,500 customers in the Mooresville and Martinsville areas, is taking some similar steps to boost its power capacity this summer.

IPL has leased 85 diesel-powered electricity-generating units and parked them at substations to provide about 70 megawatts of power if needed.

-- Martin Thompson (, June 16, 2000

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