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Tuesday, Jul 23, 2024

Energy Blackouts portend longer summertime outages

Energy: As Temperature Rises, Shutdowns Will Roll on Throughout Day

As San Diego faced rolling blackouts last week, sparked in part by increasing temperatures, the response from San Diego Gas & Electric Co. was a masterpiece of understatement.

“This is the beginning of a long summer,” said Jim Avery, senior vice president for fuels and power operations at SDG & E.;

The rolling blackouts began May 7 in other areas of the state, but hit San Diego County the following day, all the way from San Ysidro to Ramona. Also affected were areas of Orange County under SDG & E;, such as Laguna Nigel.

The blackouts were triggered in part because several “qualifying facilities,” or small generators, had refused to accept directions from the California Independent System Operator, possibly due to nonpayment or underpayment, Avery said.

Avery stressed SDG & E; had paid all the money due to the qualifying facilities. Their argument was not with the utility, but with the California Public Utilities Commission, which establishes what rates these facilities are paid, he said.

However, Avery noted the Cal-ISO has predicted interruptions are likely to continue throughout the summer. The situation is not likely to change until new resources are brought on line, and the federal government acts to enact price caps on electricity, he said.

Conservation ‘Vital’

Avery also cited conservation as another important factor in getting out of the energy crisis. He called upon customers to reduce their energy use.

“It is vital that we do what we can to conserve, so that we can limit the amount of blackouts, the number of them, and how long they extend,” Avery said. “If a million people across the state turned off a light bulb at the same time, you’d save 100 megawatts.”

Last week, the power outages were confined largely to the end of the business day when power demand peaks, he said.

That might not be true in the coming months. As the temperature increases, so does the stress on the system , meaning more and longer blackouts over the summer, Avery said.

“A rolling blackout can happen at any time,” he said. “We might have to go to rolling blackout as early as 11, 10 a.m. I think it would be a false sense of security for businesses to assume that it couldn’t happen during the day.”

Kelly Cunningham, research manager for the economic research bureau at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the energy crisis over the summer will certainly be bad for business in several ways. First, businesses are paying much more for electricity.

Economic Impact Uncertain

“That has to be absorbed or passed on to the customer, so that means prices are rising, and steering inflation (while we’re) competing with other regions that don’t have as high an expense. But the blackouts tend to be even more disruptive because it pretty much just puts you out of business,” he said.

It’s hard to put a dollar figure on the economic impact, since at the same time that this is happening, the local economy is still growing, Cunningham said.

Earlier this year, Cunningham predicted locally the rate of growth would be slowed throughout 2001. But high energy prices could push the economy into a recession, he said.

There are a number of things businesses can do to help mitigate the crisis. The first of these is to conserve, although Cunningham conceded there’s only so much that conservation can do by itself.

Other steps include staggering work hours, so fewer people are working during peak times, and pressuring the state and federal government to intervene, he said.

Michael Shames, executive director of the Utility Consumers’ Action Network, said the rolling blackouts were not unexpected, due to warm weather at the same time that “market dysfunction” has led to a shortage of supplies.

24-Hour Alerts

Currently, the power outages are occurring only between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., during the period of maximum demand as people go home and start using power. However, as the summer heats up, blackouts will last even longer, Shames said.

“Things can get a lot worse. I expect 24-hour Stage 2 situations for most of the summer. Blackouts would begin at 2 to 3 p.m. and continue through 8 p.m.,” he said.

UCAN has prepared a guide describing how homes and businesses can prepare for blackouts this summer. The information is available at UCAN’s Web site at (http://www.ucan.org/law_policy/energydocs/blackout2.htm).

Shames agreed that conservation is the key to minimizing blackouts.

“It may not eliminate the blackouts, but it will make them less serious than if conservation was not deployed.”


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