California:"there may be rolling blackouts all summer, starting in May

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ENERGY CRISIS: Power experts forecasting dark summer

By MIKE CONWAY BEE STAFF WRITER

(Published: Saturday, April 28, 2001)

MERCED -- California, get used to being unplugged. The state's energy crisis is only going to get worse in the months ahead, experts predict.

"It's a pretty grim outlook," said state Public Utilities Commissioner Carl Wood. Instead of the 30 to 40 days of rolling blackouts already forecast, he said, "there may be rolling blackouts all summer, starting in May."

Wood and two representatives from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spoke Friday at the quarterly meeting of the Merced County Economic Development Corporation.

The villains are out-of-state power companies who are exploiting loopholes in the state's deregulation laws, Wood said.

"Generators are deliberately withholding supplies to keep the market tight," he said.

The result is that California's power problems have spread throughout the Western states, Wood said. While the shortages haven't resulted in major layoffs in California, other states such as Montana and Wyoming have shut down businesses and laid off thousands because of the high price of electricity.

"The entire economy of the West Coast is at stake at this point," he said.

PG&E economist Dennis Keane blamed the crisis on the out-of-state "gougers."

Historically, Keane said, power prices peak in summer when demand soars because of the number of air conditioners in use.

"It's a phenomenon. We don't like to pay these gouging high rates, but when there are power outages, people don't like that either," Keane said.

The state Independent Systems Operator, which controls electricity distribution, has forecast a 2,000-megawatt-hour shortage for PG&E customers this summer. If people conserve, the shortage could be cut in half.

"That's many hours of blackouts," Keane said. "We could be looking at eight hours a day."

Much of Northern California is divided into 14 blocks for the blackouts. Each block contains up to 250,000 customers spread throughout the region. Several blocks experienced rolling blackouts earlier this year.

PG&E Manager Stan Kataoka said in the worst case, "There could be as many as 10 blocks out at once. There is a tremendous potential for shortfalls this summer."

Kataoka said the energy forecasts are based on an average summer. "If we see a hotter-than-average summer we may see more of a shortfall.

"Right now we are scrambling for every kilowatt hour we can get."

http://www.modbee.com/metro/story/0,1113,261866,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), April 28, 2001


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