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Published Tuesday, August 1, 2000, in the San Jose Mercury News

Rolling power outages possible High demand, heat wave could trigger blackouts BY STEVE JOHNSON Mercury News

California could come perilously close to a wave of power blackouts today, energy experts warn, because searing heat across the West is expected to push the state's electricity use to record levels.

Just six weeks ago, on June 14, a similar series of blackouts -- or ``involuntary curtailments'' as state officials called them -- affected tens of thousands of Bay Area residents, disrupting work for many and leaving others miserable at home.

``I don't want to panic anyone, but clearly we need them to pay attention to conservation,'' said Patrick Dorinson, a spokesman with the California Independent System Operator in Folsom, which oversees reliability on most of the state's power grid. ``It's very important for them to cooperate.''

The June 14 blackouts were so disruptive that Gov. Gray Davis ordered the California Public Utilities Commission officials to investigate. The report of their findings is due to the governor today.

On Monday, in the portion of the grid that the Independent System Operator monitors -- which excludes the Los Angeles and Sacramento areas -- California homes and businesses gobbled up at least 45,629 megawatts of power, with one megawatt being enough for about 1,000 homes.

That's about 1,500 megawatts more than was used on June 14. At that time, officials said they were ordering rolling blackouts to help take stress off the system and keep the entire power grid from failing.

Today, officials expect power use to hit 46,245 megawatts, which would be a record. At peak summer periods, the state normally can expect to have about 46,400 megawatts, leaving a slim margin for error.

Demands on the power supply got so heavy Monday that officials declared a ``stage two emergency,'' which means more than 95 percent of the state's available electricity supplies were in use. It was the sixth time this year that such an emergency order has been issued.

Under that declaration, PG&E and other utility companies asked some of their bigger business customers to voluntarily reduce their energy consumption, under a program that grants them a price discount in exchange for their cooperation.

Power blackouts would probably occur under a stage three emergency, when more than 98.5 percent of the available power gets sopped up.

Customers notified

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spokesman Ron Low said state energy officials are hoping it doesn't come to that. But as a precaution, he said, the utility has been notifying its larger customers of the possibility of blackouts, given the intense and prolonged heat wave.

``We're asking all of our customers, both large commercial customers and residential customers, to conserve energy whenever possible,'' Low said. ``If that doesn't provide enough relief under the system, the ISO may be forced to declare a stage three.''

If blackouts are ordered, it is hard to say which areas might be affected and for how long. When they occurred June 14, they tended to hit in one spot for a few hours before power was restored there and another was thrown into darkness. Areas affected included portions of Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Alameda, San Mateo and San Francisco counties.

Predicting blackouts is difficult, because the kinds of conditions that can cause them vary depending on how hot it gets, where electricity use is especially heavy and how well the vast system of power generating plants that serves California holds up under the stress.

Although the amount of power consumed on June 14 was less than that used Monday, temperatures on June 14 were especially hot -- reaching 109 degrees in San Jose.

That broke the city's previous record of 108 degrees, which had stood since 1972. And much of the heavy power consumption was in and around Silicon Valley, placing an especially high level of stress on a transmission system located in Tracy.

Power plant failures

In addition, some of the state's power plants had unexpected failures, making it difficult for the state to find alternate power at the last minute.

Today is expected to be hot, but not quite as bad as on June 14. High temperatures along the coast should hit 80 and escalate to around 106 in the warmest inland areas, according to the National Weather Service in Monterey.

The problem this time has been that the heat has blanketed much of the western United States. Since California generates about 75 percent of its own power, it must rely on power from other states for the rest of its needs. It gets 11 percent from states in the Pacific Northwest and the other 14 percent from those in the Southwest.

But when it's hot all over the West, those other states tend to use more of the power they generate, making less available for California. In light of that, ISO officials have been trying to identify extra sources of power that might be available today.

``We're doing everything we can to line up as much as we can,'' said the ISO's Dorinson. But whether the state's power plants will all be up and running is anyone's guess, he said, noting that ``at any time you're going to have generators out.''

-- Martin Thompson (, August 01, 2000


Tuesday, August 1, 2000

Oppressive heat stresses Southland power

By Brent Hopkins, Staff Writer

With temperatures Monday reaching as high as 98 in Van Nuys, power companies asked some San Fernando Valley customers to make voluntary cutbacks to conserve energy.

___ Today's Headlines ___  GOP convention opens with moderate message  Member of rigging crew electrocuted  Study finds Valley transit zone would be feasible  Man's age tied to making babies  Oppressive heat stresses Southland power  Noted photographer mourned  L.A. mayor's race gets more expensive  Neighborhood getting face lift in Van Nuys  Panel calls for firing Rampart cop  Downstreets may close periodically during DNC The increased demand for power is creating a statewide strain on supplies, said Patrick Dorinson, director of communications for the Independent System Operator, which regulates power in California.

"We're in for a couple of rough days here,' he said.

Temperatures will likely rise today, then taper off toward the end of the week, the National Weather Service said.

High humidity levels are also contributing to power use as customers switch on their air conditioners to escape the uncomfortable conditions.

According to the National Weather Service, a high pressure dome near Arizona is causing an increase in humidity. The trend is expected to continue until Wednesday, said weather specialist Curt Kaplan.

From 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday, ISO, the nonprofit manager of California's deregulated power grid, declared a Stage 2 alert, which indicates reserves have fallen below 5 percent, statewide.

Under this system, various customers who participate in the voluntary interruptable service plan may have their electricity cut off in exchange for paying lower rates.

This is the sixth shutdown this year, up from only one in 1999.

One customer participating in the voluntary shutdown was the Valencia- based California Institute for the Arts, shut down for four hours yesterday.

"We're on emergency power right now," said Randy Sullivan, the school's maintenance supervisor.

During such shutdowns, CalArts subsists on generators to run emergency lights and computer backups. Prior to the shutdown, the school was given a half hour notice by utilities distribution company Southern California Edison in order to properly shut down all machinery in time.

"It interrupts school but it's a price you have to pay," Sullivan said. "That made us miss the last hour of class, but I'm sure that the kids don't mind too much."

If power levels continue to drop, ISO could upgrade to Stage 3, which entails roving mandatory blackouts for all customers, but such a situation is extremely unlikely, Dorinson said.

SCE also participates in an air conditioner cycling program, said company spokesman Steve Hansen.

In times of need, air conditioners in homes and businesses are shut off for short amounts of time to lessen the demand for power.

The Los Angeles City Department of Water and Power also operates under the same mandates from the ISO, but customers were unaffected, said Henry Martinez, assistant general manager for power service. Because the DWP draws its power from different sources, it was able to maintain higher reserve levels and not have to initiate emergency measures.

"We're not interrupting any customers because of the Stage 2 alert," Martinez said. "We have plenty of resources to meet the needs of the city."

The main cause of the increased demand is the weather, Martinez said.

"The high pressure system sitting over the West is increasing demand on power," Dorinson said. "It's really taxing us."

If anyone is benefiting from the increased humidity, it is hair salons.

The Tarzana location of the Beauty Collection has experienced a 30- percent upturn in business, said manager Lee Haverd.

"Humidity will bring out curl and make (hair) ends frizzy," she said. "We get a big call for hair-care products, especially (from) people looking for straighteners."

ISO expects the demand to lessen with dropping humidity and temperatures, Dorinson said.

-- Martin Thompson (, August 01, 2000.

Calif. power emergency seen triggering blackouts Updated 3:49 PM ET August 1, 2000 PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - A stage-three power emergency is expected to be declared in California at about 1400 PDT/1700 EDT on Tuesday afternoon, federal power marketer Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) said in a statement. If the California Independent System Operator (ISO), which operates most of the state's power grid, declares a stage-three emergency, it will trigger rolling blackouts across the state.

The ISO has never before declared a stage-three emergency, which would be triggered by high temperatures and an electricity shortage in the state.

BPA, which markets power from massive federally owned hydropower dams in the Pacific Northwest, said it would do what it could to assist California and may itself declare an emergency to curtail certain fish operations.

"This emergency is very real. I have been assured it is a human health and safety issue. The elderly, sick and infants are particularly vulnerable in extreme temperatures when there are power failures," said BPA Administrator Judi Johansen.

((--Nigel Hunt, Los Angeles bureau + 1 213 955 6752))

-- PHO (, August 01, 2000.

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