Utilities Reaching Limit of Days They Can Interrupt Companies' Power

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Jan 20, 2001 - 11:06 PM

Utilities Reaching Limit of Days They Can Interrupt Companies' Power By Margie Mason Associated Press Writer

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Utilities that gave companies cheaper rates in exchange for the ability to interrupt their power service have already used half their annual limit of outages, leaving power officials worried about massive and regular blackouts during the summer. The program was designed to give the Independent System Operator, controller of the state's power grid, a way to ease power demands. To be eligible, participating companies must offer at least 500 kilowatts that can be snagged by the ISO when it sees fit.

In return, those companies receive a 15 percent discount on the amount of kilowatts they offer, said Pacific Gas and Electric Co. spokesman Ron Low.

PG&E has 170 customers participating in the program, while Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric Co. have about 1,000 and 80 participants, respectively. The ISO says the program frees up about 1,500 megawatts of power, with roughly 1 megawatt powering about 1,000 homes.

But by mid-January, those PG&E companies have given up 60 hours worth of energy out of the 100 hours allowed annually in the agreement. And with the ISO interrupting all of PG&E's companies every day this past week, the reserves won't last much longer.

"Once you've used the program 30 times or 100 hours it's no longer available," Low said. "It means conservation will be that much more important when we go into the summer months."

It's a problem the ISO definitely hasn't ignored.

"That's something I have given a lot of thought to and has been on my mind," said Jim Detmers, the ISO's managing director of operations.

Detmers said the ISO and major utilities are discussing soliciting companies to volunteer for interruptible service during the summer.

Some companies had power shut off for 18 hours a day on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. If those companies hadn't flipped the switches, the rolling blackouts could have continued 18 hours, Detmers said.

For those companies giving up power to keep the lights on for others, their wallets have definitely felt the sacrifice.

International Paper in Visalia has sent many orders out of state and IVEX Packaging Corp. has seen some agriculture customers seek packaging services out of state, said the city's Chamber of Commerce president, Ken Oplinger.

Many of the companies hope they will be able to turn the lights on all day once their annual obligations run out. But some companies worry they will be forced to endure more outages than they agreed to.

"That's when we will see lawsuits. I would rather have everyone's power off for a few hours than essentially lose 5 to 10 percent of the state's large employers," Oplinger said.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), January 20, 2001


Maybe a program to entice the homeowner to agree to power cuts by reduced rates would work. Maintaining uninterrupted power to businesses would limit the impact to the economy. Not all problems have a solution. The power-mongers may have waited to long and a solution is beyond their grasp.

-- David Williams (DAVIDWILL@prodigy.net), January 21, 2001.

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