California Kern County outages would be random

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Kern outages would be random Filed: 12/08/2000

By CHIP POWER

Californian staff writer

e-mail: ppower@bakersfield.com

Utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric Co. have their fingers on the switches literally to randomly turn off electricity around Kern County if energy managers give the emergency order.

The order could come at any time, since the California Independent System Operator declared the first statewide Stage Three alert at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. The alert lasted two hours.

A Stage Three alert means operating electricity reserves fell below 1.5 percent. Rotating blackouts could result, with power to different areas temporarily cut off. However, blackouts were avoided on Thursday.

PG&E said it dispatched workers to each of its substations in California for further instructions from the California Independent System Operator.

The California Independent System Operator manages the flow of electricity along the long-distance, high-voltage power lines that make up the bulk of California's strained electron highway.

California had not previously had a statewide Stage 3 emergency, in which power is involuntarily interrupted from residential customers and businesses due to low reserves.

Rolling blackouts would last between one and two hours, utility managers say, if the increasing call for conservation measures and efforts to increase imports and production within the state fail.

In Kern County, PG&E already has a precise plan on how to enact the blackouts.

The company does not disclose ahead of time what areas may be darkened first, said PG&E spokeswoman Jane Zachary in Bakersfield.

"We don't want to cause undue concern to people," she said. Customers for which electricity is vital, such as hospitals and fire departments, can be exempted from blackouts.

Zachary said any areas that would be blacked out would be randomly chosen throughout PG&E's service area in California and that the same principle would hold true for Kern.

The outages locally would rotate between previously assigned "blocks" locally that may include anywhere from about 100 to 3,600 customers, which could be rural or urban, she said. When laid out on a map, the blocks might not look like a square at all. Customers in the same block could in fact be far apart in the county, said Zachary.

A Stage Two Emergency, which preceded Thursday's Stage Three alert, is declared when operating reserves dip below 5 percent or are expected to within the next two hours.

A Stage One Emergency is declared when the state's operating reserves of energy dip below 7 percent. All power consumers are asked to conserve energy.

Gordon Smith, president and chief executive officer of PG&E, urged customers to conserve energy for the next several days. A cold snap is expected to arrive in California over the weekend.

"It's not enough simply to talk about conservation: We all need to do our part to conserve energy during this crisis," said Smith.

http://www.bakersfield.com/oil/Story/255671p-241048c.html

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), December 09, 2000


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