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Many Cool to Calls to Cut Power Usage

Energy: Valley residents would rather pay than turn off the air conditioner.

August 14, 1996|BOB POOL and ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Southern Californians don't seem to be sweating over calls by local power companies to conserve electricity because of the weekend blackout.

It's just too hot for that.

Conservation? "I tried that on Monday," said Larry Kendrick, a 37-year-old construction analyst who lives in one of the hottest parts of the San Fernando Valley, Tarzana, and works in one of the hottest parts of the San Gabriel Valley, Monrovia.

"We set the air-conditioning at 80 degrees. But when we came home the place was 110. We never cooled off. I'm not doing that again," he said Tuesday, when the temperature hit 104 in Monrovia.

The highest temperature reported in Los Angeles was 109 in Woodland Hills, and the mercury hit 102 in Van Nuys and 99 in Burbank. That was still well short of the record for highest temperature on an August day--111 in Van Nuys and 110 in Burbank.

Although Tuesday's top reading of 94 in downtown Los Angeles made it one of the hottest days of the year at the Civic Center, several days this year have been hotter.

While conserving electricity to save money was appealing to some, many agreed with Kendrick that a triple-digit heat wave is not the time to start changing habits formed over a lifetime. "I haven't changed my habits at all," said Victor Grauaug, a salesman from Westlake.

Utilities can upgrade technology to handle the excess capacity, he said. Besides, "if you can afford to pay extra money to pay a higher electric bill, pay it. If you can't, cut back," he said.

"I work hard and I'm willing to spend whatever I need to," Stefani Lennon, a manager of a Hollywood apartment building, said as she relaxed in 70-degree comfort. Her last Department of Water and Power bill was $129, she said. "Conserve? If I'm warm, I put it on," she said about her air-conditioning at home.

Others have seen the conservation light. Christina Rivadeneira, 37, a receptionist from Canoga Park, used to leave the air-conditioning running all night. But, she says, she realized after having to go without power for three hours Saturday that if everybody had that attitude "it could lead to another blackout."

Southern California's power companies meanwhile had a two-pronged message for consumers worried about blackouts: There's plenty of electricity to go around, but please use less of it.

Even a 25% reduction in power supplied by outside producers after Saturday's blackout won't affect local residents and businesses, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Southern California Edison Co. said Tuesday.

But the rumble of air conditioners and the prospect of continuing triple-digit temperatures has prompted the two agencies to issue calls for conservation. Reducing the area's power usage will help neighboring utilities that lack the resources to weather such crises, officials indicated.

"The DWP has adequate electrical reserves to meet all customer needs," said Marcie Edwards, the agency's director of bulk power. "However, we are joining with the state's other major utilities in asking our customers to shift their nonessential electrical use from the 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. peak hours."

The heat was a boon for Union Ice Co. in the Valley, where sales were up more than 300%. A big Union Ice customer was a concrete company that uses 300-pound ice blocks to keep the mix cool in cement trucks.

Office manager Gary Shockley was probably about the only worker in the Valley who could complain of his office Wednesday that "it gets a little chilly there in the back."

Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in the Santa Clarita Valley reported a huge rise in attendance for its water rides this week.

The call for power conservation came as the western power grid, which is overseen by a consortium known as the Western Systems Coordinating Council, ordered a 25% reduction in the amount of electricity transmitted into California from the Pacific Northwest. Energy officials plan to increase that to a 33% cutback today in hopes of preventing another blackout on what they call the Pacific Intertie power grid.

Such power cutbacks won't have much impact in Southern California, where the Edison Co. and the DWP have their own generating facilities and purchase only a small percentage of their electricity from the Intertie, the officials said. And, at any one time, power from the Pacific Northwest would make up only 670 megawatts of the 21,000 megawatts Edison could deliver.

The utilities and members of the environmental movement agree on one thing: There isn't much that individual consumers can do to forestall these types of systemwide failures. The issue, both groups say, is not a lack of energy.

Ralph Cavanagh, the energy program director for the National Resources Defense Council, said that although the country has enough energy to meet demand, the recent blackouts are an indication that high usage can tax the delicate system.

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