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Power Struggle

Electricity: As the Valley steams, generating-station workers scramble to keep the wattage flowing. Consumers are implored to go easy on air conditioning to avoid outages.

August 02, 2000|EDGAR SANDOVAL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SUN VALLEY — Workers at the Valley Generating Station ran from one end of the plant to the other Tuesday, checking for possible water leaks as alarms beeped.

With midday temperatures hovering around 100, all 38 workers made sure the plant's units generated energy at maximum capacity, 330 million watts.

"Entire countries can live with this energy," said Nazih S. Batarseh, city of Los Angeles generating stations manager. "This is just one of four plants in the city."

With the year's hottest month just beginning, keeping energy plants operating at full power is a necessity, plant officials said.

Station workers say they expect many more hectic days like Tuesday when the blazing heat took its toll all over Southern California as people cranked up their air conditioners.

Officials with the California Independent System Operator, an agency monitoring the state's energy levels, pleaded Tuesday for Californians to begin conserving energy to avoid involuntary power outages, ISO spokesman Patrick Dorinson said.

So far this year, California ISO has issued seven Stage 2 warnings, which call for voluntary power conservation. Last summer there was only one Stage 2 warning.

The most serious warning--Stage 3--is issued when electricity companies cannot provide enough power during peak usage times. Blackouts usually occur during Stage 3 conditions.

The city of Los Angeles generates its own power and rarely runs the risk of blackouts, said Enrique Martinez, manager with the Department of Water and Power.

The rest of the state is not so lucky. California ISO said statewide power reserves--which should be at 20% more than required--are running between 5% and 7%, which could quickly be exhausted in case of an emergency.

"The state's [power] reserves are dangerously thin," said Gail Alexander, spokesman with Southern California Edison. "We have had a lot of close calls [in July]."

Forecasters say relief is not on the way. Valley temperatures are expected to reach the upper 90s and low 100s throughout the rest of the week, said meteorologist Chad Pettera of WeatherData Inc., which provides forecasts for The Times.

Valley Generating Station employees are well aware of the forecast and know they need to keep the pumps working, said Gary D. Cuesta, plant operations supervisor.

Cuesta walked inside the operations room to find fellow workers operating machinery built in the 1950s and keeping a close eye on black-and-white TV monitors that showed units' water exceeding 1,000 degrees.

The water is sucked into turbos, generating electricity for the region.

"It's all basic, really, water producing energy," Cuesta said. "But we cannot allow one tube to leak water. We have to be up and running this time of day."

Dispatchers at the Energy Control Center in the northeast Valley, where power is regulated for the entire city, would immediately alert plant workers in Sun Valley of the need to raise or decrease the production of electricity.

Three other plants--in San Pedro, Playa del Rey and one near Long Beach--generate power for more than 3 million residents of the city of Los Angeles.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Tips to Cut Power Use To prevent drastic shortages, power officials around the state are asking Californians to take simple conservation measures, such as closing drapes, cooling with fans and using power appliances early in the morning or after 6 p.m. when temperatures are not as high.

Other measures include:

* Turn off lights in unoccupied rooms.

* Set thermostats at 78 degrees or higher.

* Avoid unnecessary openings of refrigerators.

* Regularly clean or replace filters in forced-air air-conditioning units.

* Make sure house has adequate insulation.

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