California Power Woes Hit Newspapers Hard : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Monday, January 29, 2001


by Randy Dotinga

San Diego - It seemed like a good idea at the time. Back in 1995, The Orange County Register in Santa Ana, Calif., learned it could save a bundle on utility bills if it agreed to turn its power off during electricity crises, which then were very rare. The Register signed on.

Now, amid California's energy meltdown, officials at the nation's 28th-largest newspaper are wishing they'd pulled the plug. The electricity deal may cost the Register hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Facilities Director Tom Grochow, and the paper can't get out of it. 'This is an absolute disaster.'

Southern California Edison asked the Register to cut its power 17 times last year and 12 times this month, compared with only twice in 1999, Grochow said. While the Register cut the juice to air-conditioning units and six of seven elevators, the newspaper can't function with all the power off.

So the Register has to pay huge penalties - 100 times the normal billing rate - for the electricity it does use when it's told to shut down, Grochow said. The Register may buy a generator system, but it could take weeks to renovate its six-story building's electrical system.

A few miles away, the Los Angeles Times is suffering from similar problems. Its two plants in Los Angeles are largely protected from outages because the city has its own municipal power utility, which is financially healthy.

But its Orange County plant, in Costa Mesa, has a power-cutting agreement similar to that of the Register. Luckily, the Times has backup generators that power the plant during outages, said spokesman David Garcia.

In the Southern California city of Riverside, a municipal utility has protected The Press-Enterprise from price hikes. But outages are still a possibility. The newspaper has distributed flashlights and employees know to evacuate if the power goes out, said Editor and Publisher Marcia McQuern.

Northern California's big dailies, most with backup generators, have largely been spared from blackouts, though at least two papers - the San Francisco Chronicle and The Fresno Bee - were hit by outages.


Randy Dotinga is a free-lance writer based in San Diego.

-- Martin Thompson (, January 29, 2001

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