July 21, 2005

Record power demand sparks Calif. blackout scare

By Nigel Hunt

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California looked set to escape
without power blackouts on Thursday, allaying earlier fears
sparked by record breaking demand in the southern half of the
state and a series of power plant breakdowns, a spokesman for
the state's Independent System Operator said.

But the ISO said Friday could see new problems as
temperatures rose in the northern half of the state.

The state agency warned earlier on Thursday that rotating
blackouts were possible, but demand for power started to dip
from record breaking levels late in the afternoon.

"Load is starting to really come off now and I think we are
in better shape in terms of the rest of this afternoon and this
evening," spokesman Gregg Fishman said.

The operator, which controls most of the state's power
grid, declared a transmission emergency early on Thursday
afternoon as high demand linked to scorching heat and a series
of power plant outages sparked some voltage problems.

Within minutes it also declared a stage two power alert for
southern California, but the situation eased later.

"That (voltage) has largely stabilized. We did find a bit
of extra generation," Fishman said.


Southern California Edison, a unit of Edison International,
said its customer demand reached 21,934 megawatts of power on
Thursday, a new high. The previous record of 21,112 MW was set
on Wednesday with a heatwave engulfing the southern half of the

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the nation's
largest municipal utility, on Thursday broke a demand record
that had stood for almost seven years with a peak of 5,661 MW,
a spokeswoman said.

The previous high of 5,643 MW was set in September 1998.

One megawatt is roughly enough power for 800 homes under
normal conditions. But with air conditioners laboring during a
heatwave, it may not be able to supply more than 250 homes.

The utility implemented a program that reduced demand for
power linked to air conditioning use following the stage two
emergency declaration.

Fishman said California faced another challenging day on
Friday with overall demand expected to rise as the northern
half of the state heats up.

"Tomorrow (Friday) is going to be another interesting day,"
he said, noting utilities had already been asked to restrict
maintenance in a bid to maximize available power supplies.

The California ISO projected demand across its whole system
would peak at a record breaking 45,754 MW on Friday, up from a
high of 44,651 MW on Thursday.

The current record, which was set in Sept. 8, 2004, stands
at 45,597 MW.

California suffered rotating blackouts several times during
its 2000-2001 power crisis where chronic supply shortage was
exacerbated by market manipulation by some traders.