State announces new early blackout warnings

The Associated Press
Saturday June 16, 2001

SACRAMENTO — Californians will get up to 48 hours notice for possible power outages this summer under a plan unveiled Friday at the prodding of Gov. Gray Davis. 

The early warning plan will tell consumers of looming blackout conditions three times before the lights go out, state electricity managers announced. The plan, effective immediately, provides warnings at 48 hours, 24 hours and one hour before blackouts. 

Officials who manage most of the state’s power grid asked Californians not to accuse them of “crying wolf” if the power stays on after their warnings. 

“I can tell you that a three- or four-degree difference in temperature can cause a two- to four-megawatt difference in demand,” said Terry Winter, president and CEO of the California Independent System Operator. 

Winter and others countered criticism that people may grow cynical about the forecasts after a few false alarms. 

“The 48- and 24-hour notices are not only to inform people,” said Winter, “but also to indicate how badly we need your conservation.” 

Dallas Jones, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said, “The plan will provide you with additional notice, but if it doesn’t come about it’s because you conserved. It isn’t that we missed the mark or our forecast was incorrect.” Jones pointed to recent near-blackouts where last-minute conservation tipped the scales back toward adequate power. 

In Moreno Valley east of Los Angeles, Art Robinson, owner of Micro One Computer, said, “I like the idea of early warnings. I like the idea of no blackouts even better.” 

Californians have endured six blackout episodes since January with most individual rotations lasting about one hour. The outages confounded traffic across the state, hampered businesses and trapped people in elevators. In most cases during those blackouts, residents had little warning before the power failed. 

Jones, echoing an earlier line by Davis, said, “Two minutes may be good enough for the NFL, but it is not good enough for the people of California.” 

Officials, speaking in a cavernous, windowless room where technicians at computers watch over the power supply, warned that mechanical breakdowns can still cut power to the state on a six- to eight-minute notice. 

On May 24, Davis equated threats of blackouts to the state’s energy-era equivalent of earthquakes, and ordered earlier warnings. ISO officials said Friday the new 48-hour notices will go out when limited supply and high temperatures threaten the power grid. 

The ISO will refine the forecast at 24 hours. If threats continue it will provide a one- 

hour notice. 

Stephanie Donovan, spokeswoman for San Diego Gas and Electricity said utilities will warn then that outages are imminent. Donovan said SDG&E customers are scattered across 120 to 125 blocks which take turns enduring blackouts. 

Customers at all three major California utilities can find their block number on their bills to see where they stand in the rotation. 

“But as we go into the summer, you might go through a lot of blocks at a time,” Donovan said.  

“We’re dealing with a very dynamic situation.”