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Power pinch possible as plants shut down for repairs

By Karen Gaudette Associated Press (Published Monday, October, 1, 2001 5:23AM)

SAN FRANCISCO -- California power plants that postponed routine maintenance and upgrades in order to keep electricity flowing earlier this year have rescheduled the work for this fall, a move that could trigger rotating blackouts if a heat wave arrives.

The state this month expects to have 9,300 megawatts offline due to maintenance and environmental restrictions, leaving 36,927 megawatts available. A megawatt is enough electricity to power roughly 750 homes.

However, the estimated amount of power needed at peak times of electricity use each day could reach 37,429 megawatts -- more than the remaining plants and out-of-state imports can produce.

"October is a month where we expect to see a fairly large number of plants offline for maintenance," said Gregg Fishman, an ISO spokesman. Should energy conservation drop substantially or a prolonged heat wave sizzle through the West, "we could still be in a position where we're a little tight," Fishman said.

Fishman said the ISO has been working with power plant operators to try to stagger shutdowns -- which can last a week to several months -- to have the least impact on electricity supplies.

"The wild card, of course, is if plants break. You can't plan for that," Fishman said.

One way consumers can help avoid blackouts is to conserve energy at peak usage times, which are between 3 and 7 p.m. during the fall and winter months, Fishman said.

Duke Energy and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. are among the power generators that had scheduled temporary shutdowns months before with the ISO.

Tom Williams, a spokesman for Duke, said the company plans to work on its Moss Landing plant, taking 750 megawatts offline soon. The company will spend $30 million retrofitting the plant with emissions-reducing equipment, Williams said.

Jon Tremayne, a PG&E spokesman, said one unit of the utility's Hunters Point plant in San Francisco will shut down early this month for 10 weeks. PG&E first scheduled a shorter outage with the ISO, but ran the plant to help the state avoid blackouts. The increased wear and tear will take longer to repair, Tremayne said.

Stephanie McCorkle, an ISO spokeswoman, said five power plants representing 1,324 megawatts are scheduled to shut down before year's end for required upgrades of anti-pollution equipment that were delayed.

Power plant operators say delaying preventive maintenance contributed to a surge of temporary closures that peaked in April, when power plant shutdowns increased by 350% from the year before, according to figures from the California Energy Commission.

Consumer advocacy groups say operators shut down power plants to reduce supply and boost electricity prices.

Jan Smutny-Jones, executive director of the Independent Energy Producers, an industry group that represents small power plants throughout the state called qualifying facilities, said having to cancel and reschedule work forced generators to pay for already-hired crews and equipment.

Study by consumer groups shows at least eight long-term state energy contracts are too costly, should be reworked.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 01, 2001

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