California: Dark Days Not Over (LA Times) : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Headline: [Ventura County highlight] Easing of Electricity Woes Doesn't Mean Dark Days Are Over; Shortages: Despite dire predictions, the last local blackout was May 8. But hot weather lies ahead.

Source: Los Angeles Times, 19 July 2001


This was to be the awful summer of rolling blackouts, but a quarter of the way through it Southern California Edison has yet to darken anyone's home or office.

"We are extremely fortunate," Rudy Gonzales, an Edison manager for Camarillo and eastern Ventura County, said Wednesday during a media tour of the company's Distribution Operation Center in Ventura.

The last involuntary rolling blackout struck locally on May 8 in parts of Ventura, Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village, Gonzales said. Problems with electricity shortages began in January. The Ventura County Government Center, which had agreed to forgo power during peak periods in exchange for discounted rates, suffered more than two dozen blackouts in the first three months of the year.

As summer approached, various reports predicted from 40 to 200 hours of rotating outages statewide, Gonzales said. Since summer began last month, there has been a single Stage 3 power alert, on July 3. Although power reserves dropped within the 1.5% required for the alert--the last step before blackouts--a lightning storm in Antelope Valley took out a couple of circuits, reducing load energy use and averting the need for intentional blackouts.

Gonzales said cooler temperatures have reduced demand for air conditioning and made more power available to import from other areas of the nation. And four new plants have come on-line in the last month, generating an extra 1,400 megawatts of power.

In addition, customers have started conserving power. Hal Conklin, Edison's public affairs director, said Gov. Gray Davis hoped 10% of customers would qualify for rebates under his new 20/20 program, which provides cuts to customers who cut their usage by 20%. So far, 29% of the utility's customers in California have earned rebates. The number of eligible Ventura County customers was not available.

This good news doesn't mean Edison, which supplies power to all of Ventura County, can stop worrying. While temperatures should continue to hover from the upper 50s to about 90 degrees in the coming week, it should be even warmer in August, said Bill Hoffer with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. And hotter days will increase the strain on power supplies, Edison officials said.

When the need for rolling blackouts arises again, Edison said it is ready with a list of where to pull the plug first. Neighborhoods that include hospitals and police and fire stations are eliminated from consideration for blackouts, Gonzales explained. The remaining neighborhoods have been divided randomly among 114 groups, with each including 9,000 to 10,000 customers, or less than half a percent of Edison's total customers.

Each group includes only portions of several cities so that no one city will be particularly hard hit. This means a section of Oxnard could lose power at the same time as selected neighborhoods in Santa Barbara and Ontario. Gonzales said Ventura County customers are included in 75 to 85 of the groups.

Officials targeted groups at the top of the numerical list for the first blackouts and then moved them to the end of the rotation. Group 32, which includes a section of Oxnard, will be the next to be hit, said Tom Lapp, system supervisor in Ventura.

Edison will alert newspapers, radio stations, city governments and public safety offices of anticipated Stage 3 alerts and blackouts up to 48 hours in advance. It also provides constant updates online via computer.

After a blackout order is given, a worker will darken the selected areas of the county by hitting a series of computer keys at Edison's Moorpark substation, Gonzales said.

The control room at Ventura's Distribution Operation Center will likely start buzzing at that time.

Up to five dispatchers sit before a bank of four huge computer monitors, displaying grid maps and lists of power problems. During outages, the screens light up with grids highlighted by red flashing incident numbers.

The lack of blackouts so far doesn't mean the crisis is over, Gonzales said.

"We certainly don't want them to think everything's OK," he said. "Because it's not."

-- Andre Weltman (, July 19, 2001

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