Power officials brought California back from the brink of rolling blackouts Tuesday afternoon, but Berkeley city officials were already doing all they could to set a good example and conserve energy.
“We’re trying all the energy savings ideas we can think of placing setting thermostats lower for heating and higher for cooling,” said Renee Cardinaux, director of Berkeley Public Works. “We’re already cutting back on energy this year so there’s very little to cut back on.”
While residents stocked up on candles and blankets, Berkeley Police said they were prepared to haul portable stop signs out of storage to areas where stop lights are out.
“We have a standard plan should we lose power because of a huge storm or involuntary blackouts,” said Berkeley Police Lt. Russell Lopes, adding that police and fire headquarters would not be affected by the blackouts.
“We don’t consider this an emergency because we’re still able to provide services we always do,” he said.
The California Independent System Operator declared a Stage 3 emergency yesterday morning after power reserves dipped below one and a half percent. If power reserves are depleted, then the ISO institutes rolling black-outs for hours at a time. Cold weather, increased energy consumption and a much-criticized deregulation of power utilities have contributed to the current energy crisis. Most recently, out-of-state suppliers have been fearful of selling energy to California energy companies because of their fragile financial situation.
But conservation efforts combined with the shut-down of two large water pumps that send water to Southern California and the purchase of some power from the Pacific Northwest, ISO spokeswoman Lori O’Donley said the lights will remain on – for now.
“We’re not anticipating any black-outs,” she said.
Although this is the second time this week that a Stage 3 emergency has been declared, Stage 2 alerts – in which power reserves dip below 5 percent – are becoming a daily occurrence.
When a Stage 2 is declared, Berkeley Energy Officer Neil De Snoo said the city dims its street lights and shuts off ball field and tennis court lights. Electric vehicles are unplugged and in city offices, De Snoo said lights are shut off and office equipment is programmed to sleep when it is not used.
De Snoo said the conservation efforts have reduced the city’s base power load by 30 percent and reduced its use during peak hours by 40 percent.
“It’s tricky, but there’s really a lot that can be done,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of peripherals in offices and if they’re not turned off, they’re drawing juice.”
At Berkeley’s Alta Vista Hospital, administrators are cutting power use by shutting off office lights at 6 p.m., said spokesperson Carolyn Kemp.
But even in a major disaster, Kemp said generators keep the hospital prepared to operate without power for days.
“We can’t close ventilators down in certain areas,” she said. “We remain full-service because we have to.”
Workers at A Honey Rest Home on Mc Gee Avenue said they stay prepared for any emergency – including possible black-outs.
“We have flashlights, candles and canned food,” said Ophelia Montro, manager of the care facility. “We have enough heaters for everyone.”