Southern California Energy Crunch Seen
by David R. Baker
Southern California could run low on electricity in the summer of 2005 even if the weather stays mild, state energy officials warned Tuesday.
Average summer weather could force the region to dip into its power reserves in September, according to the California Energy Commission. Hot weather could drain those reserves completely -- possibly triggering blackouts.
"I'm as concerned about next year as I was in 1999 about the year 2000," said commission Chairman William Keese, referring to the year when California's newly deregulated power market melted down.
Northern California, in contrast, should have more than enough juice next year to keep its air conditioners and server farms humming. Not until 2008 does the region risk tapping into its reserves in hot weather.
"We don't see a problem right now in Northern California," said Bob Therkelsen, the commission's executive director.
The projections came as representatives of the commission met with other state energy officials in San Francisco on Tuesday to discuss California's efforts to improve its power supply. One of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's top energy advisers said the state may be able to prevent shortages in Southern California.
The California Public Utilities Commission is expected to approve long- term power contracts signed by the state's utilities to secure most of the power they need. The state also could speed up work on new power plants and transmission lines already under construction, as well as delay the retirement of aging plants, said Joseph Desmond, deputy secretary of energy for the California Resources Agency.
Taken together, those steps could add nearly 2,200 megawatts to Southern California by next summer. That would more than make up for the 1,715-megawatt shortfall expected if the weather is unusually hot. A megawatt can power about 750 homes.
Power demand and supplies can vary significantly between Northern and Southern California. It is not easy to move power from one region to the other, with several bottlenecks in the state's transmission grid limiting the amount of electricity that can be shipped.
Schwarzenegger is expected to announce next week the completion of upgrades to the most notorious bottleneck -- a stretch of high-voltage line in the Central Valley -- but others remain.
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