California Summer blackout seers missing the mark -- so far : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Summer blackout seers missing the mark -- so far

Blackout visions only bad dreams

WHAT OUTAGES? State efforts paying off

Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Staff Writer Friday, July 20, 2001 2001 San Francisco Chronicle


Months ago, the experts said there might be a blackout today.

If not today, then probably this week.

Well, most likely this month.

If not, then for sure sometime this summer, so Californians had better unplug the toaster and pray for rain because there are going to be 260 hours of blackouts this summer. Or more.

It's starting to feel like the day after Y2K around here.

An unexpected thing happened on the way to California's summer of darkness - - nothing. Zero blackouts this summer, thanks to Gray-friendly skies and Californians conserving power in record amounts.

Now the state is so flush with power that it's selling back the surplus at a loss. Even Disneyland has cranked up its flashy Electrical Parade again.

Still, the doomsayers aren't backpedaling, merely clarifying their fevered springtime predictions. Like Michael Zenker, of Cambridge Research Associates.

"I think (the reporter) was asking me to speculate," Zenker said of his comment in May that there could be hundreds of hours of darkness this summer. Officially, he said, his organization predicted 20 to 40 hours of blackouts. And it doesn't plan to adjust that figure. "We've decided not to do any live forecasting," Zenker said.

Who knew what the summer would bring? Not California's power officials. The state's Department of Water Resources was in such a blackout-fearing frenzy earlier this year that it purchased too much power. So, over the past few days,

the state has been forced to sell power it bought for as much $133 per megawatt for between $15 and $30, department spokesman Oscar Hidalgo said yesterday.

"If you would have told us last winter that there would be a week in July that there would be a surplus of power, a lot of people would have had smiles on their faces," Hidalgo said.

That isn't the only fallout from the summer of surprising light. A group of California business and development leaders worries that the rest of the country is asking the same misinformed question as your Aunt Minnie in Cleveland: "How do all you people in California work by candlelight all the time?"

That kind of ignorance cost a Hewlett-Packard manufacturing plant in Roseville some business two months ago. A longtime Midwestern customer was so afraid that his company's order wouldn't be filled on time because of blackouts that he sent his business to an HP plant in California's energy nemesis: Texas.

"If that company thought that way, then how many others back East are thinking that way?" said Ken Larson, a spokesman for Hewlett-Packard. He is helping a $150,000, six-month promotional campaign called the Power of California, which will send economic and business leaders across the country to counter the misrepresentation that blackouts are a part of daily life in the Golden State. The campaign is being funded mostly with private money.

Looking back, there was no shortage of blackout Henny Pennys last spring.

The North American Electrical Reliability Council predicted 260 hours of darkness. The Bay Area Economic Council said there would be a blackout every business day this summer.

Neither organization regrets yelling "Blackout!" in a crowded state.

"At the time (March), there was good reason to expect that things would be that bad," said Sean Randolph, president of the Bay Area Economic Forum, a group of public and private leaders.

"Without that elevation of public consciousness, we wouldn't have gotten the demand change (conservation) that we expected."

Others resorted to two favorite scapegoats: the weather and the media.

"The headlines on blackouts were around last summer," said Ellen Vancko, a spokeswoman for the North American Electrical Reliability Council in New Jersey. "You should check out your own paper."

Besides, Vancko said, nobody could have predicted that temperatures would remain at or below average in California's major cities.

Actually, temperatures were 1.3 degrees above normal at San Francisco International Airport in June and 3 degrees above normal in most Central Valley cities. And yet, no blackouts.

Nearly every forecaster cautions that summer is only half over and the hottest part of the season lies ahead.

"Conservation is still important," said Stephanie McCorkle, a spokeswoman for the California Independent System Operator, which runs the state's power grid. She offered a prediction on when Californians could relax about the threat of blackouts.

"At the first frost," she said. "November, maybe?"

E-mail Joe Garofoli at

-- Martin Thompson (, July 20, 2001


It is better to sell $133 MWHr at $15-30 than pay $3990 for that same MWHr.

Wait for those cloudy skies to turn sunny and clear, then see whose calling who a patsy.
I had predicted that this could happen.
With the cost being passed on folks are conserving.

-- (, July 20, 2001.

I agree. As long as the temps stay below 90 here in the Central Valley, demand will be half what it was in May. Woohoo! I like cool days. Even though they won't last, it's been that many days that we didn't have to buy power on the open market.

-- Margaret J (, July 21, 2001.

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