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State Power Plants Going Offline

Postponed Maintenance Could Create Power Pinch

Posted: 11:32 a.m. EDT October 1, 2001 Updated: 11:58 a.m. EDT October 1, 2001

SACRAMENTO -- California power plants that postponed routine maintenance and upgrades to keep churning out electricity earlier this year have rescheduled such work for fall, potentially triggering rolling blackouts if a heatwave arrives.

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

However, the estimated amount of power needed at the times of greatest 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 Independant System Operator spokesman. Should energy conservation drop substantially or a prolonged heatwave sizzle through California and the West, "We could still be in a position where we're a little tight," Fishman added.

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 p.m. and 7 p.m. during the fall and winter months, Fishman said.

Duke Energy and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. are among the power generators who 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 in the near future. 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 in early October for 10 weeks. PG&E first scheduled a shorter outage with the ISO, but ran the plant to help the state avoid rolling blackouts. That increased wear and tear will take longer to repair, Tremayne said.

When the state endured days on end of near-blackouts earlier this year, the ISO asked power plants to delay routine maintenance to help the state's electricity supply stabilize.

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

McCorkle did not have an exact number of how many power plants would go offline due to routine maintenance.

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

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

Jan Smutny-Jones, executive director of the Independent Energy Producers, an industry group which 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.

Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press.

-- PHO (, October 01, 2001

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