Cold looms over power-short West

BY P.J. HELLER | Folsom, CA | December 8, 2000

After California declared its first-ever Stage Three power emergency Thursday, Washington and Oregon could face power

shortages as a cold spell looms over the region.

State officials in Washington and Oregon urged businesses and citizens to conserve electricity and natural gas in order to avoid

blackouts next week.

On Thursday evening, operating reserves fell to dangerously low levels, according to reports by the by the California

Independent System Operator (ISO). The agency, however, stopped short of ordering involuntarily rotating blackouts

throughout much of the state. Utility officials in that state also encouraged residents to curb use of Christmas lights and

conserve power in other ways as well.

The unprecedented Stage Three emergency declaration on Thursday followed four straight days of California ISO declaring

lower-level Stage Two emergencies, called when operating reserves fall below 5 percent of capacity. A Stage Two declaration

requires some major commercial users with interruptible contracts to voluntarily cut back on electrical usage.

A Stage Three emergency is called if operating reserves fall below 1.5 percent. California ISO had threatened early Thursday to

declare a Stage Three emergency if power usage was not curtailed.

California emergency services personnel notified law enforcement and fire departments statewide that there was serious

potential for blackouts, said Jaime Arteago, information officer for the California Office of Emergency Services.

Arteago also pointed out that power emergencies are a serious future issue. "There is a major concern," he said. "When the

legislature gets back in session, I believe this will be a major topic of discussion."

Christopher Sherry, research director of the Washington, DC-based Safe Energy Communication Council, said that utility

energy efficiency programs "have dried up and gone away."

"Energy efficiency programs have been forgotten with the move toward deregulation," he said.

In the future, states may be forced to commit more funds to energy efficiency programs in order to help reduce peak loads, he


California ISO runs the electricity system for about 75 percent of the state.

The power problems were blamed on higher demand; a cold snap in the Pacific Northwest which was limiting power imports

from that area; and the fact that several power plants were off-line for planned and unplanned maintenance.

Officials were reported to be inspecting those plants to determine if the shutdowns were an attempt to drive up prices by

limiting supplies.

"Higher-than-usual consumer demand for this time of year coupled with more than 11,000 megawatts of generation off-line and

a decrease in imported power has jeopardized the operating reserves necessary to maintain electricity reliability," California ISO


The agency, along with major utility companies, was urging residential and business customers to conserve energy.

"State officials narrowly avoided rotating power outages every day this week," noted Richard Rosenblum, senior vice president

with Southern California Edison which has some 4.3 million customer accounts. "The situation continues to be very serious,

which is why we need everyone's cooperation in conserving energy especially at the most critical periods of the day."

Peak demand is usually between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the fall and winter.

That has prompted utility officials to urge customers not to turn on outdoor holiday lights until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. "when the peak

demand on the state's electrical system has subsided."

Utility companies also asked that customers keep their thermostats set at 68 degrees when at home and at 55 degrees when

away. Other conservation measures included using electrical appliances during off-peak hours (before 4 p.m. and after 7 p.m.)

and turning off computers, copiers, lights, and other electrical devices when not in use.

"Energy usage typically peaks between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. during winter months, so customers should do all they can to conserve

during those hours in particular," advised Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

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