State warns of rotating blackouts

The Associated Press
Thursday November 16, 2000

SAN FRANCISCO — Californians are being warned they may face rotating power blackouts and higher natural gas bills because of the unseasonable cold snap that has enveloped much of the West. 

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said natural gas prices could rise by as much as 50 percent next month. Energy officials blame a low natural gas supply and power plant maintenance for the energy shortages and resulting higher bills. 

And the agency known as the Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power grid, declared Stage 2 emergencies on Monday and Tuesday because energy reserves dropped below 5 percent. That’s one step away from a Stage 3, which results in the rotating blackouts. The blackouts usually affect people throughout the state, said agency spokeswoman Stephanie McCorkle. 

Power plants across the state have added to the problem by shutting down for maintenance. That’s a routine practice in November, typically a time between hot and cold months in California, McCorkle said. 

At the same time the plants are being worked on, two nuclear plants – Diablo Canyon and San Onofre – have been shut down for refueling. Both were scheduled to resume operation by Thursday, but they take about three days to reach full capacity, she said. 

The cold weather has increased demand for heat throughout the state, too. 

“There’s an early cold snap that’s hit the entire western United States, and that has limited imports from the northwest that we can usually count on at this time of the year,” McCorkle said. “It has been cut by about a third.” 

The coming winter’s cold weather should not cause problems to the same degree because the state’s power plants are expected to be back online by the end of this month, McCorkle said. 

The state was short almost 12,000 megawatts, or enough power for about 12 million homes, beause of the plant shutdowns and the high demand for heat. 

The effect also will be felt in customers’ pocketbooks, because more people are using a static supply of natural gas. 

“The strong economy has increased demand for all forms of natural gas,” said Ron Low, a spokesman for PG&E. 

While customers can expect to see their gas bills rise next month, they should not be as high next year, Low said. 

“The higher prices will encourage producers to produce more and prices should level out in the next year,” he said. 

On Wednesday, the ISO issued a Stage 1 emergency, requesting that power users conserve energy — such as turning off lights or computers when they are not being used. The weather was expected to warm up the rest of the week, with highs in the 60s in most parts of northern California. 


On the Net: 

Independent System Operator: http://www.caiso.com/