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Hospitals Spared From Blackouts
State PUC orders exclusion for facilities with more than 100 beds
Chuck Squatriglia, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, March 24, 2001, ©2001 San Francisco Chronicle
The state Public Utilities Commission ordered utilities yesterday to exclude large hospitals from rolling blackouts -- a move that also frees an additional 100,000 customers of PG&E from such outages.
The emergency order by PUC member Carl Wood, which takes effect Wednesday, bans Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Southern California Edison Co. from pulling the plug on any hospital with 100 or more beds.
At least nine Northern California hospitals were hit by blackouts this week after the utilities revamped their list of customers exempt from blackouts to remove any "essential service," such as a hospital -- as long as it had a backup generator.
Health care officials applauded yesterday's ruling, although it fell short of their request that all hospitals be protected from rolling blackouts. "We're enormously pleased that the PUC took this action," said Jan Emerson, a spokeswoman for the California Healthcare Association. "But it's only a half- step. It makes no difference if you have 99 beds or 700 beds. When a hospital loses power, people's lives are in jeopardy."
The commission may order all hospitals to be exempted when it meets next week. Between 85,000 and 100,000 additional residential and business customers of PG&E are now immune from the outages because they share one of the electrical circuits providing juice to a newly exempted hospital, said PG&E spokesman Scott Blakey.
PG&E had made 120,000 more customers subject to rolling blackouts when it refigured the exempt list. The PUC ruling wipes out most of those savings. Even before yesterday's ruling, about 42 percent of PG&E customers were already on what is known as "Block 50," the designation for those exempt from blackouts.
The PUC ruling followed intense lobbying this week by hospitals, many of which were surprised to find they had been thrown off the exempt list. Hospital administrators argued that the generators they must have to be licensed cannot guarantee optimal patient care in a blackout.
Wood agreed, saying in his ruling that "the minimal backup generation required (to be licensed) does not satisfy commission requirements for adequate and sufficient backup generation to meet essential uses."
The utilities told the PUC that they did not object to protecting hospitals from the rolling outages and were only following PUC regulations when they removed them from the list of exempt customers in the first place.
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©2001 San Francisco Chronicle Page A - 13
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