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Rolling Blackouts Strike San Diego County

Power Turned Off In 31 Local Communities SAN DIEGO, 2:33 p.m. PST March 19, 2001 -- The state power authority ordered rolling blackouts Monday for San Diego for the first time ever.

The California Independent System Operator called a Stage 3 power shortage -- the most serious -- shortly before noon and ordered utilities to cut a total of 1,000 megawatts, enough power for roughly a million homes.

ISO spokeswoman Stephanie McCorkle said the power cuts were split between Northern and Southern California.

ISO officials said that the cutbacks could be increased to cover 2,000 megawatts, enough for 2 million homes, during a peak demand period Monday from 6 to 8 p.m.

San Diego Gas & Electric estimated that approximately 80,000 customers in the following local communities would be affected:

San Diego Oceanside Rancho Bernardo Carlsbad La Jolla Escondido San Pasqual Lemon Grove Spring Valley Vista The communities were scheduled to have power restored within about an hour, 10News reports.

A number of San Diego's schools were also expected to lose their power for at least an hour in the afternoon, including:

Challenger Junior High on Parkdale Avenue Dailard Elementary on Cibola Road Doyle Elementary on Berino Court Ericson Elementary on Westonhill Drive Green Elementary on Wandermere Drive Hickman Elementary on Montongo Circle Mason Elementary on San Ramon Drive Muirlands Middle School on Nautilus Street Sunset View Elementary on Hill Street In a news conference Monday afternoon, SDG&E President Debra Reed said that the electricity crunch underscored "how tight the state's electricity supply is right now, and how generation units -- if they fail to perform -- that impacts us in a moment's notice."

"Our most important message to customers is to conserve." She urged residents to "be prepared for ... eventualities like this in the summer," Reed said.

The effect of the blackouts was immediate. The San Diego Police Department received reports of stoplight outages at Camino del Norte and Carmel Mountain Road in the Carmel Mountain Ranch area, and at La Jolla Village Drive and Lebon Drive.

The California Highway Patrol issued an advisory of how motorists should act when traffic lights are out during electricity blackouts.

Every driver should regard such intersections as if they were controlled by stop signs -- making a full stop and carefully giving the right of way to other vehicles on an alternating basis, the CHP said.

It was unknown whether more outages would be necessary.

San Diego Not Alone In The Dark

Southern California Edison ordered blackouts in a wide area, mostly in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties. They include rolling blackouts for Irvine, the city of Orange, Riverside, Pomona, Chino, Beverly Hills, Long Beach, Visalia, Banning, Kern, Santa Monica, Arcadia, Inglewood, Bishop, Beaumont and Temple City.

Ron Low, a spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the state's largest utility with 4.5 million customers in Northern and Central California, was initially ordered to cut 196 megawatts for one hour starting at noon.

"That's about 105,000 customers," Low said.

A San Francisco fire station chief, Station 15, said that his crew was caught by surprise by the blackouts and was operating on an emergency backup generator.

"We didn't even know it was in Stage 3," Mike Kearny said. "We're operating fine. We're the only station affected. Our generators are on, our doors are open."

What Caused The Emergency?

Early Monday, grid officials declared a Stage 2 alert when they were told not to count on imports from the Northwest. At the time, a total of 11,500 megawatts were offline because of plants that were down for repairs.

About 3,100 megawatts that were off the grid were from plants that use renewable energy, such as solar, wind and biomass, which burns wood waste, officials said.

One lawmaker, Assemblyman Fred Keeley, D-Boulder Creek, said that the outages appeared to be due to a "sickout" because the generators were not being paid.

Then two additional plants went offline suddenly, triggering the blackouts.

The power grid last ordered rolling blackouts Jan. 17 and 18 across Northern California, affecting more than 675,000 homes and businesses for more than two hours at a time. Hospitals and airports were exempt.

-- Martin Thompson (, March 19, 2001

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