California Valley braces for summer outages

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Valley braces for summer outages

Schools and businesses consider generators, boosted production and changed schedules.

By Mark Grossi, Felicia Cousart Matlosz, and Kerri Ginis The Fresno Bee

(Published March 25, 2001) California's sweaty summer of uncertainty arrived at 11:45 a.m. Monday when telephones started ringing all over the state with the bad news: In 15 minutes, rolling blackouts would begin to temporarily shut down 1.2 million customers on an 80-degree day.

Traffic snarled, manufacturing plants stopped, teachers wrote lessons in chalk on sidewalks. People listened to radios during their breaks Monday and Tuesday, wondering when their power would disappear.

"It was like a bang," said Bill Walker, principal of Burroughs Elementary School in Fresno. "I was in the middle of typing a memo and everything just went off."

But forget the inconvenience of a power outage on a warm March day. Are people ready for this drill in June when the temperatures hit the mid-90s?

Schools, police departments, businesses and many others are doing whatever they can to prepare.

At the state level, officials continue struggling with the shortages created by failed electricity deregulation. They are hurrying new power plant construction, and some may be ready by July and August. Officials hope conservation will do the rest.

There are no promises that additional power and conservation will keep air conditioners going during the hot months.

"If we have a large number of very hot days, the chances are pretty high that we could run into some problems," said Mike Chrisman, regional manager of Southern California Edison Company.

Wayne S. Henry, regional vice president of Jack Frost Ice Service in Fresno, has common-sense thoughts about how to cope. His business produces 200 tons of ice daily, and ice may become a hot item this summer. "We'll be running as if we're behind schedule, storing and bagging so we don't lose production," Henry said. "If we keep our cold rooms closed, they'll be OK all day long."

A Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop in Visalia may consider buying a generator, according to manager Tina Woolley. She said her store plans to continue operating even if the lights go out, but without a generator, the outage can't last much more than 90 minutes.

"Once we go past two hours, we're getting concerned," she said. "We have no place to put the ice cream."

Others said they hope for more notice before the electricity is turned off. "Without the power, we can't work," said Maria Baca, officer manager for CI Dental offices in Visalia. "If a doctor is doing a root canal and the power goes out, you can't just leave the patient like that. With some notice, we can reschedule our appointments."

Many public officials are optimistic they will simply persevere during outages. They said they feel confident in their procedures because of preparation for Y2K, the computer-glitch scare in late 1999 that fizzled in early 2000.

But there's no way of getting around basic public safety issues, said Fresno police Capt. Jerry Davis. Alarms will go off during outages and police have to check them out.

"We don't know if there's a robbery or a power outage," Davis said. "Our responsibility is public safety of life and property."

On the roads, Davis suggested people drive defensively and stop at all intersections where traffic signals are down. Police may station an officer at a busy intersection during rush hour, but there aren't enough officers to cover every affected intersection in a 100-square-mile urban area with 450,000 residents.

"We're very concerned about blackouts late in the day when the traffic gets heavy," he said. "We will decide how the blackouts will be handled on a case-by-case basis."

One way to avoid the uncomfortable combination of a blackout and late-afternoon heat is to finish the day early, say officials at California State University, Fresno, which went dark briefly Tuesday during a rolling blackout.

"We've been pretty aggressive about using less power," said spokesman Mark Aydelotte. "We've added 250,000 square feet of buildings in the last eight years, but cut our energy consumption by 10%."

Fresno State has installed fluorescent lights and timers in addition to cooling many buildings with a water-chilling unit that is cooled at night when power demands are down and electricity is cheaper. Aydelotte said officials may try to consolidate classes into just a few buildings this summer so power can be shut down in other buildings.

But measures such as time-shifting to earlier hours and keeping some buildings empty are not as easy to implement for Fresno Unified School District. The district -- with 79,000 students, 10,000 employees and 90-plus campuses -- is the fourth-largest district in the state, and buildings are needed throughout the day.

So far this school year, the district has spent $1.1 million more than anticipated because of escalating energy costs.

"It's a little hard for us to turn off things during class time and after-school kind of events," said Lyn Peters, the district's environmental services manager.

On days of rotating blackouts, the district alerts individual schools that may be affected.

"The schools have been very cooperative," she said. "On the day of the blackouts, they're pretty much ready for it now."

But the outage last week at Burroughs Elementary, which is a multitrack, year-round campus, led to questions.

The school's buildings include one large "pod" structure that houses 14 classrooms. If the power is shut off, the air conditioning will go off and "the only light we can get is from one door we can open," Principal Walker said.

What if a blackout strikes when students are taking the all-important Stanford Achievement Test-9, the basis for how each public school in California is ranked? Because Burroughs has four "tracks," or schedules, its SAT-9 exams will string out from April 16 to June 22.

Schools are locked into tight restrictions and conditions about how the test is to be administered.

"It's such a high priority for everybody," Walker said. "It's crucial that we do the very best we can.You're not supposed to interrupt it. They're timed tests."

At the Hanford High School District, which was left in the dark Monday, teachers are being asked to open all windows and doors in their classrooms during outages. Those classes with limited lighting are moving outside. And conservation is the top priority.

The high school was caught off guard by Monday's outage, said district spokeswoman Candace McIlory, but teachers responded quickly by moving classes outside.

"Basically, they made do with sunlight," she said. "Some teachers were writing with chalk on sidewalks. Pretty much, education just continued."

The reporters can be reached at mgrossi@fresnobee.com, fmatlosz@fresnobee.com or kginis@fresnobee.com or 441-6330.

http://www.fresnobee.com/localnews/story/0,1724,251860,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), March 25, 2001

Answers

I guess the hit and run thieves are going to gear up for this summer. No better time to burglarize or rob then when the videocams, alarms and other security systems are inoperative. Must be lots of nefarious schemes in the planning.

-- Guy Daley (guydaley@altavista.com), March 25, 2001.

the computer-glitch scare in late 1999 that
fizzled in early 2000.

and reared its ugly head again in the summer
of 2000 ::::-

-- spider (spider0@usa.net), March 25, 2001.


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