California Businesses Must Apply To Be Exempt From Blackouts --- In August : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

How severe will the cascading effects of electrical blackouts be, if critical infrastructure, such as water and petroleum refining, must suffer blackouts in June and July?


Published Tuesday, May 22, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News Copyright, Fair Use for Educational and Research Purposes Only

"Essential customers" to be spared


BY Dana Hull, San Jose Mercury News

State utilities regulators announced Monday that they will exempt individual businesses from rolling blackouts this summer if the customers can prove the outages would present ``a significant danger to public health and safety.''

Hundreds of nursing homes, organ donor labs, outpatient health clinics, and water and sewer agencies are expected to apply by the June 1 deadline. A consulting firm will then rank them, and the Public Utilities Commission plans to compile an expanded list of ``essential customers'' by Aug. 2.

``We can only accept a limited number of requests,'' said Commissioner Carl Wood during a morning press conference in Los Angeles. ``This is not a lottery. This is a serious exercise aimed at protecting the well-being of people in California.''

Although blackouts are certain to be needed before August, the utilities commission does not expect to be able to finish its review of the applications until then.

Who should be exempted from rolling blackouts has been the subject of fierce debate as the summer approaches. Although hospitals, fire and police stations, and military bases are already on the list of essential customers, many other facilities are not. Some are simultaneously bracing for blackouts while lobbying the utilities commission for exemptions.

The San Francisco VA Medical Center sees nearly 200 patients a day at its 13th & Mission Clinic. The clinic has had one blackout so far. ``It really interfered with all of the computers and the clerical work, and our patient load got backed up,'' said David Porter, a clinic administrator. ``We'll certainly discuss applying for an exemption.''

Wood said the number of customers who can be exempted from blackouts is limited, but declined to say how many businesses would be added to the essential customers list. The state's fragile electric grid needs to maintain a pool of customers that it can black out during the electricity shortages that are expected to be commonplace this summer.

The utilities commission has been under intense political pressure from large business customers in Silicon Valley, as well as baseball stadiums and amusement parks, for exemptions. But claims of economic harm or inconvenience will not be considered.

``We have to rank the applications in terms of importance,'' said Wood. ``The possibility of total system collapse is not a viable alternative.''

-- Robert Riggs (, May 23, 2001

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