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Equipment, heat issues blamed for power loss

Thousands of valley homes suffer outages

By Lukas Velush The Desert Sun July 4th, 2001

Power-related problems popped up across the Coachella Valley on Tuesday, likely the result of a third straight day of extreme heat.

But there were no rolling blackouts, which are planned outages used when there isn’t enough power to keep up with demand in the state.

Tuesday’s problems were all tied to malfunctioning equipment.

"It’s something that happens when there are days and days of hot weather," said Tom Boyd, a spokesman for Southern California Edison. "(The electricity components) don’t get a chance to cool down adequately. We’ve got people all over trying to put out problems associated with this heat storm."

The temperature hit a record-tying 118 degrees on Tuesday in Palm Springs, following a 117-degree Monday and a 115-degree Sunday.

Among the highlights of Tuesday’s power-related fireworks:

About 3,500 homes in La Quinta, Indio, Coachella, Sun City Palm Desert and Thermal lost power at noon for about two hours because of a transmission line problem, said Rosa Maria Gonzales, a spokeswoman for Imperial Irrigation District.

However, the power didn’t immediately come back on for all customers. As the afternoon went on, the number of homes without power fluctuated from 38 to 138 and finally to about 30 at 6 p.m.

A transformer blew up in Palm Springs near the intersection of Roxbury Drive and Sunny Dunes Road. No homes lost power but there was a small fire that burned the transformer and a tree.

IID had a second, unrelated outage in La Quinta at 4:20 p.m. Twelve homes were affected, most of which had power restored by 6 p.m.

The California Independent System Operator issued a one-hour blackout warning at 2 p.m. indicating that power reserves had declined to the point that blackouts were expected starting at 3 p.m. The need for blackouts was averted when power use dropped off a bit and the available supply climbed a little.

Other problems cropped up around the valley on Tuesday, too, mainly ones that affected small groups of homes.

Nine homes in Palm Springs didn’t lose their power, but their voltage dropped to such low levels that they could not run major appliances, namely their air conditioners.

"We’ve been without air conditioning for more than 20 hours," Eva Svoboda said at noon on Tuesday. "The lights are on, but we can’t do anything else."

Svoboda and other neighbors say Edison did not view their loss of power as a emergency because they still had power.

"Everybody is irate," agreed Ness Olsen, one of Svoboda’s neighbors. "This morning I couldn’t even get the coffee maker to work. Our house is 102 degrees right now."

Edison spokesman Paul Klein said Edison has had a severe work load over the last two days and has been working as fast as it can to fix problems as they occur.

"We’ve been very busy out there," he said, indicating that the homes should have had their power back to normal by 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Temperatures are projected to cool a few degrees today with a chance of thunderstorms, so the hope is that there will be fewer power-related problems.

-- Martin Thompson (, July 04, 2001


The July/August edition of Technology Review there is an article about the power grid and attempts to cure the gridlock.

-- David Williams (, July 05, 2001.

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