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Energy Officials Warn of Summer Electricity Woes

June 03, 2005|From Times Wire Services

California and federal energy officials warned Thursday that the electricity system in Southern California would face hard times this summer, especially if the weather was unusually hot, and that next summer might be even rougher.

The southern half of the state "is the worst electricity supply situation in the entire country," Joseph Kelliher, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said at an electricity conference in San Francisco.

"It's indisputable that there are problems, and some problems have remained for some time," he said.

FERC Chairman Patrick H. Wood III, reflecting on the chaotic blackout days of the California energy crisis in 2000 and 2001, expressed disappointment.

"I thought we would be further along after four years," he said. "It's a bit disheartening, quite frankly, to see we're looking at a potentially tight summer and maybe two."

The FERC officials, joined by the California Public Utilities Commission, state energy commissioners, grid operators, utility and independent power representatives and economists met to measure the electricity supply and demand outlook for the next two summers and explore ways to redesign the state's power business to attract needed investments.

California has been unable to add enough generating capacity to compensate for the retirement of aging power plants, officials said at the conference.

The capacity will be little changed a year from now, said Jim Detmers, a vice president at the California Independent System Operator, one of the agencies that issued the warning. The Cal-ISO runs most of the state's power grid.

Although the state is building new plants, it is retiring older, inefficient stations, leaving a net addition of about 8,600 megawatts since 2001, not enough for a healthy reserve cushion.

Detmers said demand for electricity rose 4% in the state last year, with much of the growth in the south, where air conditioner use was strongest.

Bloomberg News and Reuters were used in compiling this report.

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