July 25, 2006

California blackout threat, heatwave ease slightly

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The California grid operator said
on Tuesday that conditions on the state's electric system were
improving amid signs a severe heat wave was easing slightly but
it cautioned the situation could worsen quickly if a power
plant broke down or transmission failed.

"We are in marginally better condition," said Gregg
Fishman, spokesman for the California Independent System
Operator, or ISO, which manages 80 percent of the grid.

"If everything holds together, we will be all right. But if
we have a major contingency like a plant going off or losing
transmission, then we will have a problem," Fishman said.

Temperatures in the Central Valley were expected to dip a
little, to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius) from 108
degrees, and readings were cooler along the coastline.

Still, the ISO did not rule out a "Stage 2" emergency,
which means business and industrial customers go dark or trim
power use in return for lower power prices.

The ISO said it was critical for customers to conserve
electricity to prevent rolling blackouts.

The ISO came close to the breaking point on Monday, but met
the peak demand because customers did a good job of conserving
energy and the system remained intact.

Early Tuesday, the ISO asked generating companies and
transmission owners to avoid power plant or transmission line
maintenance projects on Tuesday until 8 p.m.

The grid operator forecast peak demand on Tuesday would
reach 50,538 megawatts, breaking Monday's record of 50,270 MW,
which was 11 percent higher than the record set last year.

One MW in California can usually power about 700 homes, but
the number served drops during record usage.

An estimated 100,000 customers were without power early
Monday, down from more than 1 million over the weekend, due to
the heat. The number of outages, however, dwindled during the

With temperatures topping 110 degrees Fahrenheit in some
parts of the state on Monday, there were reports of more than
two dozen deaths due to the heat.

The ISO advised customers to set thermostats at 82 degrees
or higher, cool with fans, draw the drapes, turn off
unnecessary lights and appliances and use big appliances in
early morning or late at night.

The California ISO operates the power grid in parts of
California for about 30 million people and administers the
state's wholesale power market with a generating capacity of
about 62,000 MW.