Power struggle: soaring heat could leave us in the dark

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Thursday May 11, 2000

POWER STRUGGLE: Soaring heat could leave us in the dark

By TIM MORAN BEE STAFF WRITER (Published: Thursday, May 11, 2000)

A hot summer could bring power shortages to California, and in the worst case power blackouts, state power regulators warned Wednesday.

The California Independent System Operator, the organization that operates the state's electric transmission lines, said electric customers may be asked to curtail power use this summer if demand exceeds supply.

The problem, said ISO Chief Executive Officer Terry Winter, is that the economy in California and other western states is booming. That means electric use is rising faster than anticipated, and California hasn't added generating plants to keep pace.

There are several new power plants proposed or under construction, but they won't be operational for a year or two, Winter said.

The situation will become a problem only with an extremely hot summer, Winter said. "If it is a normal summer, we clearly have the resources to meet the need," he said.

But if a major generating facility goes off line unexpectedly or very hot weather causes demand to skyrocket, there could be a problem, Winter said.

"We are not anticipating any forced reduction or anyone not able to meet their (power) demand," he said.

Industries and consumers, however, may be asked to voluntarily curtail energy use on hot afternoons, Winter said.

Under the worst-case scenario, Winter said, the state would come up as much as 1,000 megawatts short of demand, and have to resort to power interruptions -- blackouts.

The Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts are not a part of the ISO's electrical transmission grid, and both districts say they have sufficient power to avoid problems this summer.

Still, MID spokeswoman Maree Hawkins said the Modesto district would comply with requests from the ISO. "If the ISO goes with a rolling blackout of the grid, MID will comply. We will assist them in any way possible to avoid emergencies and help out if it happens," Hawkins said.

Under a rolling blackout, power would be shut off to small portions of the electric grid in half-hour blocks, Hawkins said.

TID spokesman Jim Freschi said the Turlock district is willing to make any surplus power it has available to the ISO, but probably would not participate in a blackout or voluntary power curtailment called by the ISO.

"It depends on the situation. We would not think it necessary to ask customers to cut consumption if we have enough resources," Freschi said.

It shouldn't come to a blackout, Winter said. Many industrial customers in the state signed up for an "interruptible" rate, which gives them a cheaper rate in exchange for agreeing to shut off the power in a shortage situation, Winter said.

The state can reduce peak load by 1,000 megawatts through those voluntary industrial shut-downs, Winter said.

The ISO also has launched a program that will pay industrial customers the market price for power that they volunteer to curtail during peak energy periods.

Winter said users of 500 megawatts of power have agreed to bid into that program. Another 500 megawatts can be saved by businesses volunteering to shift power use away from peak times, Winter said.

The final strategy is asking residential customers to conserve energy on hot afternoons, Winter said.

That involves strategies like setting air conditioning thermostats at a higher temperature, closing drapes to prevent the sun from heating the home and shifting major appliance use to cooler times of day.

The ISO will issue "Power Watch 2000" alerts 24 hours in advance of forecast high- demand periods, asking residential customers to cut back.

ISO officials aren't sure how much of the peak demand can be reduced through residential conservation, but it is potentially very significant, Winter said.

If power reserves fall below certain levels, staged alerts are issued, Hawkins said.

A Stage 1 occurs when reserves fall below 7 percent, and customers are encouraged to conserve where possible.

A Stage 2 occurs if reserves are below 5 percent. Customers are asked to reduce all non- urgent power use, and the interruptible power customers are taken offline.

In a Stage 3, customers are asked to immediately postpone use of major appliances, and the ISO can order rotating blackouts, Hawkins said.

The rotating blackouts haven't been necessary in the past, Hawkins said. "We have found that when people are asked to reduce the load, they really do." 


-- - (x@xxx.com), May 11, 2000


Do you ever shut up?

-- (gee, @do .you?), May 11, 2000.

Gee: Do YOU????


-- consumer (shh@aol.com), May 11, 2000.

Living in So. Calif., just one more reason to go out and test my generator. I take it that "interruptible" users means me!

-- Richard (Astral-Acres@webtv.net), May 11, 2000.

New Rules, Demands Put Dangerous Strain On Electricity Supply

According to Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, "There will be outages and brownouts this summer. America is a superpower, but it's got the grid of a Third World nation." Two factors that may lead to shortages of electricity this summer are increased demand for electricity fueled by economic growth and deregulation which may cause difficulties in the distribution process. The Department of Energy claims the U.S. has a daily generating capacity of 780,000 megawatts of electricity but will need a minimum of 700,000 megawatts this summer which does not leaves sufficient surplus. Some corporations may begin to build their own back-up electricity supply, as has Oracle Corp.

For additional information refer to The Wall Street Journal or go to http://www.wsj.com.

http://library.northernlight.com/UU20000511080000029.html?cb=0&dx=1006 &sc=0#doc

-- - (x@xxx.com), May 11, 2000.

Thanks Richard. My weekend list of things to do just got longer.

-- Carlos (riffraff@cybertime.net), May 11, 2000.

Huh. How come the grid became archaic suddenly after the Y2K Rollover? How come THIS year the power companies are forecasting blackouts, rolling blackouts, brownouts, beige-outs from California to New England? A Third World Grid? But it happened literaly overnight, as far as the PR statementw were concerned. My recollection is that Richardson's first declaration to this effect appeared ca. January 17, 2000.


-- (nuts@upina.cellrelaytower), May 11, 2000.

Just so you're all not taken in by this hype, this will be the first year that both New York and California will have unregulated electricity pricing. There has always been only a slight surplus of available capacity because it doesn't make economic sense to build additional capacity for those few times during the year that it's needed. In the past, the first megawatt cost the customer as much as the last megawatt. With deregulation, it costs more per megawatt as capacity availability declines. It is in the power companies interest to stimulate the idea that electricity will be in short supply since this will decrease resistance to increased prices. Works exactly the same as the oil companies and gasoline pricing.

-- Jim Cooke (JJCooke@yahoo.com), May 12, 2000.

Okay, time to re-group and start up again the helpful hints some kind folks offered one another, when we didn't know if the electric would continue after Jan 1. If the power goes off in the summer (as it does), the weather is hot, wet towels and place them over your torso, changing as needed. One on the forehead, one on the neck also helps. Been there, done that. Worked in the 60's, worked again last night when central went out (bummer).

-- Geez (folks@nother.drill), May 12, 2000.

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