Rolling Blackouts Hit California Again

For the first time since January, rolling blackouts were ordered in California today, turning out the lights in approximately 500,000 homes, including some in Beverly Hills.

Officials at California's Independent System Operator (ISO), which monitors the state's power grid, called a Stage Three alert at midday because of increased temperatures, a higher power demand and a lack of electricity from the Northwest.

Further complicating the situation was the closure of two power plants. One was offline for maintenance and the other was shutdown due to unpaid bills, the officials said.

Yesterday, the ISO ordered Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison, two of the state's biggest utility companies, to cut a total of 500 megawatts of electricity, enough power for roughly 500,000 homes.

ISO spokeswoman Stephanie McCorkle said the outages were split between Northern and Southern California. A spokesman for Southern California Edison said the blackouts affected the Los Angeles-area cities of Chino, Beverly Hills, Long Beach, Visalia, Banning, Kern and Santa Monica.

The ISO last ordered rolling blackouts on Jan. 17 and 18, which affected more than 675,000 homes and businesses in Northern California for more than two hours at a time. Hospitals and airports were exempt from the blackouts.

Summer of Darkness Forecasted

Officials from SoCal Edison and PG&E say they have lost $13 billion since last year because of the high cost of wholesale energy. Energy wholesalers have been reluctant to provide power to cash-strapped companies because they fear they will not be paid.

Gov. Gray Davis has committed $2.7 billion for power purchases, which will be repaid when the state issues an estimated $10 billion in revenue bonds approved for less expensive, longer-term power contracts in May.

Still, natural gas supplies are low, water supplies are down, and heat waves are expected to drive up the demand for power. Californians are bracing for power shortages and rolling blackouts into the summer as the peak demand for power is expected to exceed supplies from May through September.

Today's rolling blackouts came as Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham warned that summer blackouts would not be the end of the California's power problems.

Speaking before the Chamber of Commerce's National Energy Summit in Washington D.C., Abraham said California's energy crisis could affect the nation and last for decades to come. Abraham also defended the Bush administration's desire to tap the natural oil reserve in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

"California is just a sign of the what's to come if we don't diversify our energy resources," he said. "The failure to meet this challenge will threaten our nation's economic prosperity, will compromise our national security and literally alter the way we live our lives."

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