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Power Grid Keeps Its Cool

Heat: Sure, Fido is miserable. But at least the electric can opener is working.

August 16, 2001|MITCHELL LANDSBERG and TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Heat Tip No. 227 comes from Tim Dewar, a spokesman for the Humane Society's animal shelter in Ojai.

"Anyone who thinks it's OK to take their dog with them on a day like today should put on a fur coat, drive to Vons and park a while," Dewar suggested Wednesday as the temperature climbed past 100 degrees in many inland areas of Southern California.

"But call the paramedics before you go," he said. "You'll need it."

Yes, the dog days of summer have arrived, filled with misery for man's furry friends. But for those who wear short sleeves and walk on two feet, the hottest days of summer so far have carried far less menace than advertised.

There were no rolling blackouts in California on Wednesday--not even close--as parts of the state recorded some of the hottest readings of the year. Temperatures rose to 100 degrees in Ojai, 103 in Van Nuys, 107 in Hemet, a scorching 111 in Borrego Springs.

How hot was it? It was so hot in some places that the cows refused to eat.

"They've lost their appetite," said Bob Feenstra, general manager of the Milk Producers Council in Ontario. Dairy farmers in Chino have seen milk production decline by two or three pounds per cow over the last few days, he said.

But the bigger picture is this: After a winter in which everything that could go wrong did go wrong, California seems to be in the midst of a summer in which everything that can go right is going right.

"The weather has been very good to us," said Stephanie McCorkle, a spokeswoman for the California Independent System Operator, the agency that runs the state's electricity grid.

Not only has the summer so far been unusually mild, but the few heat waves have been largely regional. That held true Wednesday, when highs that soared into the triple digits in some places were balanced by temperatures in the 60s, 70s and 80s elsewhere. That lessened the strain on power resources, which had been repeatedly stretched to the breaking point last winter and spring.

The high in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday was only 83, two degrees below normal for the date. It was 69 at the Santa Monica Pier, 75 in San Diego, 77 in San Jose and 67 in Oakland--hardly the kind of readings that could send the power grid into free fall.

"I really didn't think it was going to happen, and it didn't," said Carol Cox, a real estate agent from Chatsworth (105 degrees) and a nonbeliever in the sky-is-falling theory of blackouts.

Last spring, Cal-ISO said the state would face 34 days of rolling blackouts this summer if it used as much electricity as last summer. The North American Electric Reliability Council predicted 260 hours of summer blackouts for California.

The tally so far: zero.

There are a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the mild weather and better-than-expected conservation. Those two developments have combined to dramatically lower the amount of electricity being used.

Last summer, statewide consumption exceeded 40,000 megawatts on 34 days. This summer, "I would say less than half a dozen days" have reached that benchmark, McCorkle said. On Wednesday, statewide consumption was 39,130 megawatts.

There also is more power available this summer. Five new plants have come online so far, feeding about 1,600 megawatts of power into the grid. Even the wind has cooperated, McCorkle said, blowing harder than usual and increasing windmill production.

For all that, there was no getting around it some places Wednesday: It was hot.

In San Bernardino, it hit 106 downtown. It stayed an even 78 inside the Carousel Mall, where about 25 people took advantage of a new Cool Center run out of an empty storefront by the nonprofit Operation Grace, under contract with the Public Utilities Commission.

Kathy Wilson, 51, of Moreno Valley, was there, playing checkers with Shirline Hernandez, 56, of San Bernardino, both happy to be out of the heat.

Without air-conditioning, "You can't cool off no matter what you do," Wilson said. "You shower, you change clothes. But you're still hot."

And blackouts or no blackouts, air conditioning costs a lot more this summer than last, at least for customers of the state's big investor-owned utilities.

As the mercury climbed Wednesday, Orange resident Asher Stern wiped the sweat off his face and reflected on his electric bill, which he said has doubled to nearly $200 a month.

Stern, a 24-year-old Chapman University student, said it's apparent he must do more to conserve. His apartment, which he shares with two roommates, does not have air-conditioning, but they keep the fans running nearly around the clock.

"All we can do is sit around, be hot and get irritated with each other," he said.

*

Times staff writers Doug Haberman, Gene Maddaus, Erin Park, Kenneth Reich, Eric Malnic and Jason Song contributed to this story.

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