Election Section

California’s power supply dwindles

By Karen Gaudette, The Associated Press
Friday June 07, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO – California’s power supply dwindled as temperatures soared into triple digits this week, prompting managers of the state’s electricity grid to order power plant operators to forego scheduled maintenance so they could keep generating needed megawatts. 

California’s reserve of power has dipped close to emergency levels several times over the past few days as customers around the state flipped on air conditioners, said Gregg Fishman, a spokesman for the California Independent System Operator. 

The agency typically shoots for a reserve cushion of 15 percent. A 7 percent reserve, which the state neared Thursday, triggers a Stage 1 power alert, two stages away from when ISO must launch rolling blackouts. 

Fishman cautioned the situation isn’t as dire as the numbers make it look, because supply consistently has outpaced demand. 

“What we’ve seen in this heat wave is indicative that our margin is still not thick enough,” Fishman said. “It looks like we’ll have enough to get through this summer but not enough to get through this summer easily.” 

So far, the ISO has avoided alerts because plants have stayed online and hydroelectric dams are producing more power than during last year’s drought, according to Fishman. And with new power plants pumping an additional 1,114 megawatts of power onto the grid since January, the state should be able to dodge a repeat of last year’s blackouts if Californians keep conserving energy, he said. A megawatt is enough electricity to power roughly 750 homes. 

Beyond the horizon of this summer, however, California’s future is unclear. The ISO recommends the state add 1,500 megawatts each year to keep up with growth, but developers have withdrawn or delayed several major power plant projects, with many saying the state’s regulatory environment is too unstable to build.