Hot temperatures force second day of blackouts

The Associated Press
Wednesday May 09, 2001

SACRAMENTO — California grid operators cut power to nearly 300,000 customers Tuesday, saying hot temperatures and scarce supplies left the state short of electricity for a second straight day. 

The convergence of high demand, hot temperatures and short supplies means California may be looking at a “long week,” said Lorie O’Donley, a spokeswoman for the Independent System Operator, which runs the power grid. 

ISO officials asked utilities statewide to cut 400 megawatts for two hours Tuesday. 

“We just have run out of supply available and (we have) high demand because of high temperatures,” O’Donley said. 

The blackouts were called off at 5:15 p.m., said Jim McIntosh, ISO’s director of operations. But ISO officials said they expected similar problems Wednesday. 

“We thought tomorrow was going to be a break,” McIntosh said. “Right now, our forecast is for very similar load conditions.” 

He didn’t expect any increase in supply until Wednesday, when a 750-megawatt plant was expected to return to service. 

San Francisco city officials said the outages affected several of the city’s most heavily trafficked streets just as rush hour started. 

“Our biggest problem is going to be gridlock when the spread of the brownouts gets to major thoroughfares,” said John Daly, of the San Francisco Office of Emergency Services. “It’ll probably take the duration of the evening to get traffic running again.” 

Daly said he was starting to treat the blackouts as a matter of course. “The people in San Francisco are starting to take it in stride, too,” he said. 

It was California’s sixth day of rolling blackouts this year. 

About an hour before the blackouts, ISO officials said they weren’t seeing enough conservation. 

Grid operators had scrambled throughout the morning to find enough power, importing more than 5,000 megawatts from the Northwest. 

By mid-afternoon, however, it became clear that wasn’t enough. 

Pacific Gas and Electric cut 151 megawatts, affecting about 143,000 customers throughout Northern and Central California in two waves of blackouts, said spokesman Ron Low. 

Sacramento Municipal Utility District spokesman Gregg Fishman said the utility cut power to 4,800 customers in south Sacramento County. 

Laura Farmer of SDG&E says the utility cut 32 megawatts Tuesday affecting 14,400 customers in San Marcos, Ramona, Chula Vista and parts of the city of San Diego. 

Southern California Edison cut 168 megawatts, affecting nearly 135,700 customers over two hours in several cities, including Long Beach, Inglewood, Arcadia, San Bernardino and Brea, said Edison spokesman Tom Boyd. Only parts of each city were expected to be affected. 

“The object is to spread the situation, not concentrate it in one spot,” he said. 

In the town of Mammoth Lakes, the blackout came and went without a complaint from residents. Police received a single call. 

“There’s not a lot we can do. We only have two stoplights,” said Michael Grossblatt, a town spokesman. “We just dealt with it.” 

Earlier in the day, utilities asked their “interruptible” customers to cut back on their power use in the early afternoon when the ISO declared a Stage 2 power alert. Those large commercial customers get a discount on their electric bills in return for cutting during power emergencies. 

But consumption increased throughout the day, which triggered the blackouts that kicked in at 3:15 p.m. 

Temperatures around California were expected to remain high through Wednesday, meaning continued demand for electricity to run air conditioners. 

“It looks like today and tomorrow are going to be the warm ones, then we’ll see cooling toward the weekend, with a return to more seasonal temperatures,” said Eric Hilgendorf, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. 

By afternoon, inland temperatures around the state had soared past 90, with a high of 97 in downtown Sacramento.