Californians fear blackouts over coming summer : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Thursday, June 21 7:48 PM SGT

Californians fear blackouts over coming summer

LOS ANGELES, June 21 (AFP) - Untended patients in hospitals with no air-conditioning, buildings and homes left to burn because firefighters have no water, and darkened cities prowled by criminals. The scenario is a frightening one for Californians.

Those are some of the images of a possible summer conjured by pessimistic planners as the Golden State prepares to face its unrelenting energy crisis and summer approaches.

California's power crisis hit the one-year mark earlier this month. And the blistering heat of summer brings with it the specter of more blackouts, economic disruption, and even civil unrest.

"This summer could be the worst disaster to ever hit the state of California," state Senator Joe Dunn told the Los Angeles Times.

So far the energy shortage -- blamed on a botched 1996 deregulation -- has caused rolling blackouts and bankrupted California's largest utility, with worse expected this summer when residents crank up the air conditioners.

If summer isn't too hot, some businesses may go bankrupt, and California freeways -- where the term "road rage" was coined -- could be more jammed than usual as signal lights crash and emergency response systems overload.

But if it's a hot one, the entire western US power grid could collapse, causing uncontrolled blackouts that might lead to looting, contaminated drinking water, civil unrest, and death for the most vulnerable, especially the very young and the elderly.

Emergency planners are treating the prospect of uncontrolled blackouts just like they would earthquakes or other natural disasters, said Sheryl Tankersley of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

"The energy situation is a little different than natural disasters," Tankersley said. "We can avoid having blackouts if people use less of it, until we get more generators on line."

"We never know when we are going to have an earthquake," Tankersley said from her office in the state capital of Sacramento, baking under 38 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit) Wednesday.

Officials are even dusting off reports prepared for Y2K -- the millennium crisis that never came.

The Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, where temperatures reached 42 degrees Celsius (108 Fahrenheit) Wednesday, is exempted from mandated blackouts -- as long as the system is working, that is.

But the hospital plans to open its air-conditioned lobbies so locals can cool down, said Jonathon Mack, director of emergency trauma services.

"We're expecting an increase in patients," Mack said. "There was a county-wide disaster scenario that went on recently with just this particular scenario, where they had cooling stations and so forth."

The California Independent System Operator, which manages the power grid, recently began a warning system to alert Californians their power might be cut, with outage warnings at 48, 24 and one-hour intervals.

The cost of preparing for a blackout that never comes is minuscule compared to the estimated 800-million-dollar price tag of unexpected rolling blackouts in Silicon Valley, said Carl Guardino, president of the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group.

Governor Gray Davis traveled to Washington this week to prod federal lawmakers to help California by bringing energy prices down.

Between May 2000 and last month, private power generators overcharged Californian consumers by 8.9 billion dollars, the governor told a Senate hearing Wednesday.

"They must be required to give us back our money," Davis said.

In northern California, power managers are counting on cooling sea breezes to keep temperatures tolerable and prevent spikes in air conditioning use that could strain the power grid.

But even if residents there conserve electricity and are blessed with mild summer weather, heat waves in neighboring western states or Canada could strip them of the power they import from those places.

-- Martin Thompson (, June 21, 2001


The California I.S.O. grid load hit almost 40 GigaWatts today, and not only were there no blackouts, there weren't even any warnings out, nor any "Stage" alerts.

This is deja vu January 1, 2000: "Day Zero" hits, and nothing at all bad happened. Celebration! But the same caveat applies --- beware the "Flood": As summer drags on, overworked power plants could break down, overworked grid traffic controllers could tire and start making serious errors, Californians might let up on critical conservation, sensing the worst is past, and other such longer term phenomena could rekindle the crisis into full flame.

Let's hope that this "echo" of Y2K's Ground Zero remains at the same intensity for the "Flood" beyond "Day Zero": Relatively mild.

-- Robert Riggs (, June 22, 2001.

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