Plant outages soar, feed rise in skepticism : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

ISO's lack of clout key focus of critics By Craig D. Rose UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER February 11, 2001

Through weeks of electrical emergencies, managers of the state power grid often have declared that California teeters at the edge of blackouts because it lacks power plants.

The mantra seems clear. But it puzzles electricity industry experts.

They contend that California appears to have more than enough power plants in place to satisfy its electricity needs during winter. In fact, the state had among the most generous winter reserve margins, according to the industry's reliability council.

Those reserves have disappeared, however, because of a high number of generating plant shutdowns. By all accounts, the number of temporary shutdowns is a record.

Some of these outages were planned, to allow for maintenance or installation of antipollution equipment, for example. Plant owners say others have been forced by unexpected mechanical problems.

Either way, the shutdowns have raised questions about the California Independent System Operator, which is charged with managing most of the state's power grid and ensuring reliability.

Instead of functioning in a role akin to that of a power system fire marshal, the ISO has relatively little authority. It's so lacking in clout that it cannot compel most generators to coordinate their closures for routine planned maintenance.

Thus there have been times, say ISO officials, when its inability to reschedule plant shutdowns for nonessential work has worsened or perhaps caused power shortages.

Despite being charged with maintaining electrical reliability for three-fourths of California, many experts say the state's deregulation plan armed the ISO with little more than a concept, embodied in its motto, Reliability Through Markets.

These days, the slogan more often provokes laughter than respect.

"We relied on the hidden hand of the market," said Michael Florio, a member of the ISO's board and an attorney for The Utility Reform Network, a San Francisco based consumer group.

"And the hidden hand is giving us the finger now."

The ISO itself concedes that the recent level of outages is unprecedented. The grid operator blames a number of factors, including what it says are increasing burdens on an aging fleet of power plants.

In fact, a recent report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission -- based partly on telephone interviews with plant owners -- concluded the shutdowns were legitimate.

But critics say other reports found evidence the shutdowns might be related to attempts to tighten supplies and drive up power prices. They note further that a recent study in New England found a similar increase in generating plant shutdowns following deregulation there.

Before deregulation, reliability was the responsibility of investor-owned utilities, such as San Diego Gas and Electric. The companies had complete control over their transmission and power generation systems and were held accountable by the state utilities commission.

Most experts agree this simplified the role of assuring reliability.

-- Tess (, February 12, 2001


Thanks Tess, good article that focuses
on unplanned outages and failures because
of skipping maintenance outages.

-- spider (, February 12, 2001.

Thanks spider. I plan on being sort of a regular around here if you all will have me! lol I like digging around and finding important news concerning this power "crisis".

-- Tess (, February 13, 2001.

Welcome Tess

We need a few regulars around here.


-- Martin Thompson (, February 13, 2001.

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