Calif. may alter outage strategy : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Report: Calif. may alter outage strategy

Friday, 11 May 2001 17:20 (ET)

LOS ANGELES, May 11 (UPI) -- After an on-going battle to avoid rolling blackouts, California officials may soon change their tactics and go ahead and order a series of daily outages, a published report said Friday.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that a proposal circulating in Sacramento would make outages a daily occurrence in the state in areas that will both reduce the state's overall bill for electricity and allow people to be prepared for their power to go out.

"We're talking about blackouts of such magnitude, that we just have to find a way to get people better notified," State Sen. Debra Bowen told the newspaper. "People want to know whether it's in our best interest to simply plan for outages, rather than subject ourselves to an out-of-control market. We may be better off doing that."

California currently operates under a series of power alerts with the most dire, known as a Stage Three alert, which contains provisions for rolling blackouts and is ordered when power reserves fall below 0.5 percent of demand.

The state was hit three times this week by rolling blackouts, although cooler temperatures Friday made it unlikely further outages would be necessary before the weekend began.

While the rolling blackouts are controlled in terms of when they begin, and how long they last, the people whose neighborhoods are affected generally don't know they are coming until the lights actually go out.

There has been a growing public call for some kind of advance notice so that merchants can close up shop, office machines and computers can be shut down, and factories can fire up their back-up generators.

"A two-minute warning may be appropriate for a football game, but it's inadequate to protect California's citizens and economy," said Carl Guardino, president of the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group.

San Diego Gas & Electric Company has been developing a system in which pending blackouts would be announced over an e-mail or beeper notification system.

Bowen said that while the outages might leave people in the dark even when power supplies are adequate, there would be a benefit in that using less electricity would reduce the amount of power the state must purchase every day. A reduction in demand would also likely lower the actual price of electricity on the spot market.

Officials with the California Independent System Operator, the agency that manages the state's power grid, said the planned outages would help, but would not rule out the need for emergency blackouts.

Lawmakers from inland districts told the Mercury News that the planned outages should be scheduled in the cooler coastal areas in order to spare their constituents from enduring the sizzling late-afternoon desert heat without the merciful benefit of air conditioning. -- Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

-- Swissrose (, May 12, 2001


This is the sort of "triage" that Y2K preparationists were prognosticating in 1999: Electricity Rationing. But personally experiencing blackouts may be the only way to get some people to take the (effects of) Y2K seriously. And it may help retard the State's inexorable descent into insolvency.

-- Robert Riggs (, May 12, 2001.

It's got to happen until we significantly expand generating capacity in this state (or get existing plants back on line - why do we really have so many down at once?). This is just as much of a crisis as a forest fire or flood.

Letting people know in advance that their areas will go black at peak times, will enable those who need power for medical reasons to get help, or even evacuate if necessary. It would also help commercial customers plan, instead of suffering the "whoops!" system we now have. If we plan on rotating blackouts, the utilities could give specific customers a half-hour's notice or an hour's notice instead of the 2 minutes or less notice they now give to broad sections of the population. This would probably mean that the ISO calls for blackouts during Stage 2, or sets Stage 3 warnings at a larger percent of capacity. That way we would not have to pay huge prices for that last megawatt, which I have heard sets the price for all power purchased that day. Yuck!

SMUD has done a much better job at notifying people than PG&E, but even SMUD could improve notice if they could plan on rotating blackouts starting at noon. I really think we have no other choice as long as the bill is $2000/mw. This should apply to Inland areas also, but there the local governments should look out for the elderly and infirm.

-- Margaret J (, May 12, 2001.

Margaret, have you considered what opportunistists could do with the advance warning of a power blackout?

-- Phil Maley (, May 12, 2001.

Phil...have YOU considered what people and business can do with scheduled blackouts? One can then get creative and work around them. A two hour siesta is common mid day in southern countries and works fine. Neighborhoods could arrange block patrols from noon to 2pm weekdays. Jobs and recreation and shopping can all be arranged. If the necessity is there, people will develope work arounds. They and companies will become far more innovative than you give them credit for. And I really doubt that the crooks are going to all operate in the daylight between noon and 2pm. If there are to be daily blackouts, lots of manufacturing companies will work swing or night shifts and no day shifts. Its doable! KNOWING is ALWAYS better.

-- Taz (, May 12, 2001.

Great idea! I'll bet even the Sierra Club could adopt to such a schedule.

-- Uncle Fred (, May 12, 2001.

Taz, I am not an advocate of the fast paced American lifestyle, but South American countries are hardly an example of an economic system that we should follow. Yes, those countries exist as feeble economic systems but suffer a life threating illness in one of them and one would quickly wish they were back in America. Considering the history of riots in California, the governmental powers are very concerned about the reaction of the people and I think the officals have a legitimite concern. My point is that notification presents the classic horns of a dilemma, and however easy it may appear to some, there are potentially life threating results with either choice. I think the people who are wrestling with the decision of notification need prayers for wisdom.

-- Phil Maley (, May 12, 2001.

Hi, Phil, sorry about the delay to get back to you. You have a point about the "horns of the dilemma". Advanced warning to the good guys means the same to the bad guys.

Yes, I have considered what opportunists might do with the early warning information. They have a form of early warning now, with SMUD's current notification, but not for specific addresses. SMUD quotes streets for a general boundary, but not all of that neighborhood may go black. For instance, the "area" next on the blackout list encompasses South Sacramento, Laguna, Elk Grove, all of the south county including Galt, Walnut Grove, etc. That's a lot of territory. Which of those small towns and neighborhoods is next? It's a guessing game, although SMUD has indicated they are moving outages in a clockwise manner through the county. However, when Laguna got hit earlier this week, not all of it went offline.

SMUD can send e-mail or telephone notices to individuals, businesses, and factories that their neighborhood is next, without having to notify teevee or radio announcers and, by extension, burglars.

This idea is not new with me - somebody local already indicated SMUD could "beep" certain customers and give them a workable warning. I'm certain they are considering it right now. I believe they could do it via an automated recording, such as the type doctors' offices use for appointment reminders, perhaps for customers who sign up for special notification.

I can understand why you mentioned opportunists. PG&E said that was why they would not pre-notify. Even if SMUD or other utilities pre- notify certain customers, they probably cannot send out a warning that motorists have to watch out for down signals on the corner of X and Y streets next Wednesday afternoon. Announcing beforehand the location of down traffic signals would certainly give criminals a specific address. However that means continued traffic problems and accidents.

We'll just have to take our lumps on that one and expect that there will be clueless motorists who assume that non-working signals always mean: "it's green". (That actually happened Tuesday - a driver sprinted through a blacked out light, T-boned another car, and then stupidly said that on teevee. See ya in court.) Remember Mom's saying and look both ways before you cross the street! :^) Hopefully nobody gets killed, but that's hard to predict given the insane drivers around here.

I don't know if this will work smoothly or not. We have to do something, however. The "whoops" system we now have is already causing damage to businesses and endangering lives. This might reduce the damages and allow people to "fore arm" themselves. If anybody has a better idea, then I am sure SMUD would really like to hear it! :^)

-- Margaret J (, May 13, 2001.

Margaret, thanks for the well reasoned response and for information about what is really happening from someone who is living it. That is what is nice about this forum - no filters. I wish you the best in the coming months and may the Lord shine His face upon you.

-- Phil Maley (, May 13, 2001.

The phone system is setup for a 'reverse' 911 call. Where amessage can be played out for an entire area with one phone call. All of the phones can ring and be picked up and folks can hear a message played.
This can be done for an entire telephone central office. Why this is not used when a criminal is being apprehended and folks should stay inside and lock their doors, I don't know - this happened in mom-i-l neighborhood, the thug knocked on a grandma's door and got in, very ugly situation.

-- (, May 13, 2001.

I did not know that about the reverse 911 capability. That would be something to consider, if it could target certain areas.

-- Margaret J (, May 14, 2001.

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