Californians start stocking up on flashlights, firewood...

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This is from the Drudge Report: Fair use; educational and research purposes.

California Struck by More Blackouts By John Howard Associated Press Writer Thursday, Jan. 18, 2001; 8:00 p.m. EST

SACRAMENTO, Calif. The lights went out in nearly 2 million California homes and businesses Thursday in a second straight day of blackouts as state lawmakers struggled to find a way out of the deepening crisis.

The blackouts began about 10 a.m. and stretched from the Bakersfield area of central California to Oregon, 500 miles away. The rolling outages lasted about two hours.

Power managers said they expected to have enough power to avoid more blackouts at nightfall, though more problems were possible Friday.

Hospitals and airports were exempt from the outages. And home-care patients who rely on electrically powered medical equipment because of lung disease or other ailments usually have batteries or backup generators.

Utilities refused to disclose which areas were blacked out, but the effects were obvious: Traffic lights went out for a second day across the San Francisco Bay area, causing fender-benders in Palo Alto. Computer screens went dark, heaters and bank machines were silent and lights went out in classrooms.

The power outage in Sun City Lincoln Hills, a retirement community near Sacramento, prompted Jim Datzman, 62, and his wife, Sandy, 59, to take their two grandsons to a community playground. The 2-year-old twins, Corbin and Quinn, had been watching Barney on television when the power went out.

"We saw a lot of our neighbors lifting our garages up manually, which of course isn't too good for seniors," Datzman said.

With no end to the crisis in sight, Californians began stocking up on flashlights, candles and firewood. Stores were swamped with calls from businesses looking for generators.

The Independent System Operator, keeper of the state power grid, said the latest blackouts were caused by a loss of thousands of megawatts from the Northwest, where hydroelectric dams are low on water. One megawatt is enough to power 1,000 homes.

The first mandatory blackouts came Wednesday, also in northern and central California. Northern California has faced the outages first because of a transmission-line bottleneck that makes it harder for the northern part of the state to bring in power. Southern California has been spared from rolling blackouts so far.

On Wednesday, Gov. Gray Davis declared a state of emergency and ordered the state Water Resources Department to temporarily buy up to $1 billion in power from wholesalers and provide it to the state's two largest utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Edison. Both are short on power and in deep financial trouble.

Davis did not mention making the utilities pay for the power. That means the cost could fall on the taxpayers.

In the Legislature, meanwhile, lawmakers tried to work out longer-term solutions under which the state would buy even larger amounts of power for up to five years. However, many lawmakers were concerned about whether the state would get its money back from the utilities.

"We are in a terrible situation," said Sen. Debra Bowen, who heads the Senate energy committee.

Meanwhile, the governor signed legislation overhauling the ISO board to remove those with a direct stake in buying and selling power. The five-member board will instead be filled with appointees of the governor.

Davis also signed a bill to roll back California's deregulation by dropping a requirement that utilities sell their power plants.

The crisis is blamed in part on the Northwest's limited supplies of hydroelectric power and California's deregulation of its electricity industry.

Under the plan, utilities were forced to sell their power plants and buy electricity on the open market, an approach that was supposed to lead to lower rates. But wholesale prices for electricity have soared and rate caps imposed under deregulation have prevented utilities from passing on those costs to customers.

PG&E and SoCal Edison estimate they have lost more than $11 billion. They have both defaulted on millions in dollars in bills and lender payments and have warned that they are sliding toward bankruptcy.

There was more trouble Thursday: SoCal Edison was suspended from the state's Power Exchange, a clearinghouse for buyers and sellers of electricity, after failing to pay $215 million in bills.

The utility must post collateral before it can return to the market, an exchange spokesman said. A utility spokesman refused to comment, and it was unclear where SoCal Edison would go for its power.

PG&E has also warned that it may have to cut off the supply of natural gas to customers that include power plants. Suppliers are threatening to stop dealing with the cash-starved utility for fear they won't be paid.

So will flashlights, firewood, and Aladdins go in short supply? Got gas and gas cans? Our preps are looking better and better.

-- seraphima (djones@kodiak.alaska.edu), January 18, 2001

Answers

And we were all nut cases because we thought being prepared for emergencies was a smart thing to do. Our furnace is still broken and the wood stove works fine.

Sally

-- Sally Strackbein (Sally@Y2KKitchen.com), January 18, 2001.


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