Silicon Valley, California Hit With More Power Problems

Sat. December 9, 2000 12:00 AM by Brian Decker

San Francisco, CA - Californians continue to cut back on power use to avert rolling blackouts as neighboring states are asking their residents to dim the lights and resist the urge to crank up the heater in hopes of easing the strain on their shared supply.

With conservation efforts made Friday and earlier, California is still barely meeting demand.

The state also doesn't have its usual winter surplus to import to Oregon and Washington, where governors Friday urged energy conservation in advance of an Arctic cold snap early next week.

The Northwest Power Planning Council issued a ``Stage 2'' alert on power use, the same appeal Californians have heeded for the past week.

The alert asks residents to set thermostats at no higher than 68 degrees in the daytime and 60 degrees at night and turn off unnecessary lights from 6-9 AM and 5-8 PM, the peak power use hours.

``If we act quickly together, we can hopefully avoid disturbances and brownouts next week,'' Washington Governor Gary Locke said.

In California, air-quality regulators allowed several power plants to resume operations that were halted because they had reached pollution limits. Hundreds of companies voluntarily cut consumption to avoid imposed outages.

Later Friday, federal energy regulators lifted price caps on wholesale electricity in the state, following an emergency request from power grid managers, who said lifting the caps would increase its access to electricity supplies and allow it to replenish California's reserves.

Several factors are combining to create the energy crisis. Among them: cold weather, the shutdown of some generating plants for repairs and the effects of utility deregulation.

The phased-in deregulation of California's $20 billion electrical power industry was supposed to lower prices by increasing competition. But demand for electricity has outstripped supply, in part because of a growing population and a booming high-tech economy.

``The dynamic the last year is the state growth has been at a high level, and at the same time, the supply of generation has been pretty static,'' said Lorie O'Donley, spokeswoman for the state Independent System Operator, which controls California's power grid. ``We're operating at slim margins on a frequent basis.''

She said energy use has increased by about 7 percent over the past year in California.

As a result of the crunch, residents are reducing energy use — even turning off Christmas displays.

California Governor Gray Davis set the example at Tuesday's official Christmas tree lighting when the lights were switched off after the ceremony. At Sea World in San Diego, the 2,000 holiday lights on the theme park's 320-foot tall tower have been off since Wednesday.

When rates began rising in San Diego 18 months ago, Duane Shaw, 54, purchased a more energy efficient refrigerator, installed a $30 device to regulate the heat and converted all his incandescent lights to fluorescent.

``It's a philosophical thing,'' he said. ``It just believe in conserving energy.''

Others aren't so sure.

Lori Bledsoe doesn't like the idea of turning off the Christmas holiday display at her home in Valencia, an enclave north of Los Angeles.

The glittering 16-foot Ferris wheel, light-strung candy canes, the tree festooned in green bulbs — for five years they've been a tradition.

``It takes my husband two weeks to put it up,'' she said. ``I would just sob, because I have small children. ... My husband and they made all these things together.''

State regulators are loath to dim the holiday cheer.

``We don't want to spoil Christmas,'' said Jim Detmers, the power grid's managing director of operations, ``but here we are.''