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Stage 2 power alert issued; rolling blackouts likely again

Posted at 12:33 p.m. PDT Wednesday, May 9, 2001

By Mercury News Wire Services

The California Independent System Operator has declared a Stage Two Electrical Emergency alert this morning due to a third day of warm weather and a lack of power.

A spokesman says that rolling blackouts of up to three hours are likely this afternoon if conservation efforts fail.

This morning's Stage One alert was called at 10:15 a.m., followed by the Stage Two at 11:45 a.m. It means power reserves have dropped below 5 percent. The alert will last through midnight.

High demand, hot temperatures and short supplies bode ill for California for the rest of the week, power officials said, a forecast that has some business groups pondering their long-term future in California.

``Demand is going to be higher today than yesterday,'' said Stephanie McCorkle, spokeswoman for the Independent System Operator, which runs the state's power grid. ``It's the afternoon demand again. It looks like there's a strong likelihood of blackouts as a result of a mismatch between supply and demand.''

The ISO asked utilities to cut 400 megawatts in two waves of blackouts Tuesday afternoon, cutting power to 300,000 customers.

It was the sixth day of rolling blackouts in California and grid officials called it a preview of a long summer of frequent outages.

Businesses worried that could cost them millions in lost sales.

Companies suffering power outages lose their edge in competing for contracts that rely on delivery promises, said Julie Puentes, executive vice president of the 500-member Orange County Business Council.

Production delays mean higher costs, maybe lawsuits, Puentes said, and over time everything will add to lost competitiveness.

For the tech-heavy Bay Area business sector, it's the same problem. Blackouts will drive up costs, leading losses to be ``in the billions of dollars,'' said Michelle Montague-Bruno, spokeswoman for the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group.

And, if large manufacturers get the 60 to 70 percent electricity rate hike they are expecting in the next several weeks from state regulators, the businesses will start moving elsewhere, said Gino DiCaro, spokesman for the California Manufacturers and Technology Association.

About 60 percent of the organization's members represent large industry.``They will definitely leave,'' DiCaro said. ``Especially the cement manufacturers and steel fabricators; they are tied to a global market, and they can't pass on their costs.''

While businesses groaned at the outages, many other customers seemed to cope with Tuesday's blackouts. When the lights blinked out for 45 minutes at Millie's Restaurant in Ontario, employees kept working and customers kept eating.

The restaurant stayed open, employees kept the refrigerators closed and waitress Marni Marsh used the extra time to do other work such as cleaning up and refilling ketchup bottles, she said.

Lei Shi, owner of the Kung Pao China Bistro, said the brief blackout didn't even scare away customers from the popular West Hollywood eatery.``They kept coming,'' Shi said. ``They didn't even know the power was down.''

In San Francisco, city officials said the blackouts took out traffic lights on some of the city's busiest streets just as rush hour was starting.

In the town of Mammoth Lakes, the blackout came and went without a complaint from residents. Police received a single call.

``There's not a lot we can do,'' said Michael Grossblatt, a town spokesman. ``We just dealt with it.''

About 12,500 megawatts were not available due to power plants that were closed for maintenance. He didn't expect any increase in supply until Wednesday, when a 750-megawatt plant was expected to return to service.

Additionally, at least 1,000 megawatts of power from alternative generators, such as wind, solar and cogeneration plants, were off-line because they hadn't been paid by the state's two largest utilities since fall.

Jan Smutny-Jones, executive director of the Independent Energy Producers, said he doubted those plants would be able to return to service by June unless they could resolve those debts, which he says tops $1 billion.

Temperatures around California were expected to remain high through Wednesday, meaning continued demand for electricity to run air conditioners.

``It looks like today and tomorrow are going to be the warm ones, then we'll see cooling toward the weekend, with a return to more seasonal temperatures,'' said Eric Hilgendorf, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

-- Swissrose (, May 09, 2001

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