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Power Supply Likely to Meet Summer Demand

Utilities: State agency is emphasizing conservation anyway, in case extreme heat taxes system.


California's electricity supply watchdog predicted Wednesday that there will be enough electrons to keep the lights on this summer, but it is preparing for the worst anyway with an intensified conservation program.

A long, hot summer such as the one in 1998 could leave California short of electricity, said Terry Winter, chief executive of the California Independent System Operator, the nonprofit agency that manages most of the electricity flow around the state. Recent growth in the state's population and economy has increased demand for electricity by about 2% a year, but new power-generating facilities will not begin operating until 2001, he said.

To avoid shortages, Cal-ISO is identifying large businesses that are willing to conserve power for a price. And during heat waves, the agency will urge consumers to close the drapes, set their thermostats to 78 degrees, turn off pool pumps and put off running major appliances.

In contrast, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which is not a Cal-ISO participant, has extra electricity reserves that it will make available to the rest of the state in an emergency, said General Manager S. David Freeman.

"In a nutshell, they're short and we're not," he said.

Cal-ISO was created in 1998 to take over the long-distance transmission duties of the state's large investor-owned utilities, which serve about 75% of California's electricity users.

The potential seriousness of Cal-ISO's problem was dramatically illustrated Tuesday on the East Coast. A surprise heat wave coincided with maintenance at several power plants, causing utilities to interrupt power to several tens of thousands of users.

Cal-ISO's Winter likened preparing for summer energy demands to getting ready for Y2K.

"We know what a nonevent that was," he said. "Together we're going to solve this problem and not interrupt [electricity to] people during the summer."

On a normal summer day, peak demand in California is about 46,000 megawatts of electricity, of which 38,000 is generated in state and about 8,000 is imported from nearby states, Winter said. On an unusually hot summer day, peak demand could rise to 48,900 megawatts, and the state would be unable to import as much power because the other states would need it to run their own air conditioners, he said.

California is expected to come up about 1,000 megawatts short on those days, and the deficit would be made up by a state program to pay businesses for the power they don't use, Winter said. In addition, consumers will be urged by state officials and local utilities to conserve through "Power Watch" announcements primarily on radio and television.

However, any problems with power plants or transmission lines could require rolling blackouts of all customers except critical-care users such as hospitals.

The state's big investor-owned utilities also are mounting conservation campaigns. Each has a program that gives large users lower rates in exchange for the right to interrupt their electricity.

Rosemead-based Southern California Edison's interruptible power program is the largest, totaling more than 2,500 megawatts, said Ron Nunnally, director of federal regulation and contracts. Participants include businesses such as cement companies and manufacturers.

"They choose their ability to participate . . . and how they will accomplish it," Nunnally said. "They might send people home or maybe shift some processes to other times."

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