Electricity Woes May Transfer to Local Communities

Sommere Hawkins
El Vaquero Staff Writer

Although Glendale, Pasadena, and Burbank operate under their own utility departments, they may still be affected by rolling blackouts as the summer months approach and energy demands rise.

Since the beginning of the year, Southern California has been hit by state-declared power emergencies that occur when the amount of electricity available falls below specific levels set by the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO). Such emergencies are rated I, II and III.

A stage I alert occurs when there is only 7 percent or less of electricity in the power grid; stage II occurs when there is less then 5 percent left in the power grid; and stage III is declared when only 1.5 percent or less is available. At this point, rolling blackouts can occur. So far this year, California has had a total of 55 days in power emergency. Of these 55 days in power emergency, 38 have been a stage III. In the year 2000, there was only one stage III alert.

So far, Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena have not been affected by these power alerts, but there is a chance of blackouts in the future. Parts of these cities pay utility bills to Southern California Edison (SCE), which is currently not able to produce enough electricity to meet the demand.

SCE, along with the various DWP’s all belong to the California Power Grid. The Cal-ISO controls 75 percent of the grid, which sends more than 164-billion kilowatt-hours of electricity to 27 million Californians. SCE currently serves 11 million people, which makes up 41 percent of the people served by the Grid.

The power crisis has been blamed on the restructuring, also called deregulation, of utilities. This was a process that took place in order to open up competition among the smaller utility companies in California. Re-structuring allows utilities to purchase electricity at a certain rate.

Restructuring also forces utilities to buy all of their power from an agency called the California Power Exchange, altogether restricting them from making direct contacts to power generators. However, if power generators do not like a deal offered to buy their electricity, they have the option to sell to other Western states.

Restructuring required SCE to sell 10,000 megawatts of gas-fired generation. Before this, its capacity was more than 21,500 megawatts, more than enough to provide for the area demand of 19,935 megawatts. Now, the utility can’t produce enough electricity, nor can it afford to buy more.

“Simply stated, we have two problems: supply is too low, and costs are too high,” Gov. Gray Davis stated recently. “Both result from the deregulation scheme created in 1996.”

This affects everyone in the grid, for if SCE cannot supply customers, than it puts a strain on the rest of the energy community. The rolling blackouts that occur not only affect homes, but businesses, hospitals, and schools as well.

In order to relieve the stress on SCE, the Public Utilities Commission has agreed to let suffering utilities, such as SCE, PG&E, and SDG&E, raise their rates. In the winter, a rate hike was approved that would increase home bills by nine percent and businesses by 14 percent.

SCE is not the only utility company that is affected by restructuring. In March, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the state’s second largest utility company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. By filing for Chapter 11, PG&E hopes to “move through the reorganization process as quickly as possible, without disruptions or inconvenience to our customers,” said Robert D. Glynn Jr., the company’s chairman.

On April 5, Davis unveiled a plan that would help the utilities. Under this plan, people and businesses that conserve will not be affected. The rest would see an average increase of 26.5 percent. For most, the rate will increase about 10 percent, but the heaviest users can expect to see their rates rise as much as 34.5 percent.

Students and faculty at GCC can put their minds at ease regarding blackouts at school. “The water and power agency has assured us that there will be no rolling blackouts,” said Larry Serot, GCC vice president of administrative services.

Though the school itself is not affected by rolling blackouts, a rate hike will affect it.

“They (Glendale Water and Power) have told us that our electrical costs will be going up as a result of higher oil costs used to run the power plants,” said Serot.

This increase in utility payments will affect the college budget.

However, the school itself will not be severely affected by the increase in rates. Several years ago, the college underwent a retrofitting of lighting in order to reduce consumption. Another program is being developed to create an energy management system. “This system will allow us to monitor energy utilization throughout the college,” said Serot.

He also says this system will be funded “in part by state scheduled maintenance funds, district general funds and an allocation that we have requested from the state.”

In order to relieve stress on consumers, utilities have suggested ways to conserve energy. Burbank Public Serivices Department has suggested that customers reduce lighting, keep thermostats at 78 degrees in hot weather, 68 in cold, run fans instead of air conditioners, and keep drapes and other window coverings closed.

Pasadena DWP has suggested some of the same things, adding safety tips in case of an outage. The tips include turning off major appliances, using flashlights instead of candles, and using phones that plug directly into jacks, instead of cordless phones.