Southern California Edison ordered to issue blackout warnings

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Edison ordered to issue blackout warnings

By Lukas Velush The Desert Sun May 2, 2001

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Southern California Edison will warn Coachella Valley residents before subjecting them to rolling blackouts.

The California Public Utilities Commission last week ordered Edison and other investor-owned utilities to post blackout notices on their Web sites and notify the media so the public can plan for outages.

Edison is projecting it only will be able to give a 5 to 15 minute warning, because state power officials who order the blackouts have only a few moments warning before they have reduce the stateís power use.

Still, most residents will know if they could be hit by a rolling blackout on a given day because Edison will announce which neighborhoods are next in line to face outages. So when the stateís power supplies are low, customers will be able to check in with Edison or the media to see if itís their turn to face a blackout.

Warnings are especially important in the Coachella Valley because senior citizens and others who could be harmed by hot weather would have time to find ways to keep cool.

"Itís critical that we have warning. Without it people will die," said Jack Newby, director of marketing and development at the Mizell Senior Center in Palm Springs.

Advance notice will allow valley residents to travel to cool areas where the power wonít go off, or to prepare their home as best as they can, said Anthony Coletta, emergency services coordinator for Riverside Countyís Office of Emergency Services.

"They can shut down important appliances," he said. "They can get their generators ready. They can plan to go to the mall, or a swimming pool, somewhere where the power is going to stay on."

Rolling blackouts will be needed when statewide power supplies dip below available supplies. The state is expected to run short on the valleyís hottest days this summer because thatís when power needs are the greatest.

The state agency that controls the stateís power flow is projecting that rolling blackouts will be needed for at least 80 hours this summer.

Edison will not out-and-out say exactly where rolling blackouts will occur because it wants to protect those neighborhoods from would-be criminals, said Steve Conroy, and Edison spokesman.

Instead, the utility has created groups of neighborhoods that it will turn off when rolling blackouts are needed.

Conroy said those pre-determined groups are made up of little pieces of cities and communities within Edisonís 50,000-square-mile service territory. Each group contains between 15,000 and 20,000 homes.

Edison customers should be able to tell when itís their turn by watching which groups are the latest hit by blackouts, Conroy said.

Thatís because the utility plans to shut off the groups in sequence whenever possible.

For example, Edison shutdown groups 1 through 20, and groups A through D when the utility had to shut down power during the two days of rolling blackouts in March.

"Those groups now go to the back of the line," Conroy said.

Edison has about 120 such groups. Numbered groups are on automated systems, which means they can be shut down automatically. Groups with letters are mechanical systems, which means they have to be shut down by hand. Most of the groups are automated.

Customers will learn their group number in June bills, Conroy said. They can also call Edisonís customer service number after June 1 to get their group number, if they have their account number. The number to call is (800) 632-2533.

Edisonís prior policy -- more than 100 years old -- was to warn only emergency officials where blackouts where to occur, so would-be criminals would not be able to use the information to break into homes and businesses.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Lukas Velush covers the environment for The Desert Sun. He can be reached at (760) 778-4625 or via e-mail at Lukas.Velush@thedesertsun.com.

http://www.thedesertsun.com/news/stories/local/988771560.shtml

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), May 03, 2001


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