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Consumers Asked to Renew Efforts to Save Energy

Though they believe supplies are adequate, state officials worry that above-normal heat could lead to outages.

May 28, 2003|Nancy Rivera Brooks | Times Staff Writer

Facing the possibility of a sizzling summer, state energy officials Tuesday urged Californians to conserve energy to ensure adequate supplies of electricity and natural gas.

"We certainly have identified sufficient resources for this summer," said Terry Winter, chief executive of the California Independent System Operator, which runs the long-distance electricity transmission grid serving about 75% of the state. "However, as the operator I'm paid to be pessimistic."

Cal-ISO and the California Energy Commission have predicted that the state will have enough electricity to go around, assuming no bad luck. That means the lights will stay on with little sweat on the part of the state's grid operator unless the weather is extremely hot across California and nearby states, which supply California with 20% to 30% of its summer power, or a few major power plants fail or brush fires take transmission lines out of service.

"All could put us back to where we would have to have outages," Winter said.

The commission last week said the state should have an electricity cushion of at least 8% during July, August and September even with extremely hot weather. Cal-ISO declares an energy emergency when operating reserves fall below 7%.

"We are concerned about a hotter-than-normal summer," said James Boyd, a member of the state's energy commission. Boyd added that weather forecasters have put the probability of a hot summer at 50%, "so we need to be prepared and plan ahead."

That's where conservation comes in, particularly during the peak usage hours of 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Californians reduced peak electricity usage by an average of 5,700 megawatts during the summer of 2001, when the state was battling to avoid the rolling blackouts experienced earlier that year, said Wally McGuire, whose San Francisco company runs the state's "Flex Your Power" conservation advertising campaign.

But conservation dropped to about 3,000 megawatts last summer. The state wants to stop that erosion by reminding consumers to buy energy-efficient appliances and lightbulbs and to conserve power, he said.

Saving electricity also saves natural gas, which is burned to generate about 40% of the state's electricity, Boyd said. Although the state's natural gas storage level is considerably healthier than the nation's, which is at a five-year low, "it is still lower than we like to see it," he said.

"I'd rather see the natural gas go into storage," Boyd said. "More gas in storage ... equals lower prices."

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