California gets respite from blackouts

Jan. 18, 2001—The California Independent System Operator ordered power restored to all customers Thursday afternoon, after initiating blackouts totaling 1,000 MW that affected about 1 million people in northern California earlier in the day.

Kellan Fluckiger, chief operating officer of the ISO, said there would probably not be any more outages Thursday, Friday, and through the weekend.

�We will have 1,500 MW of generating resources returned to service by the evening and load is running 600 MW under the forecast,� he said.

Two generating plants accounting for 650 MW of power will be returned to service within California as well as an 800 MW unit outside of California. Conservation accounts for the load running 600 MW below forecast.

Compounding the problems caused by outages, imports from the Northwest have been drastically reduced. Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) usually sent California an average of 1,700 MW/hr in December. Today BPA can send only 1,000 MW/hr.

Any power sent by BPA to California must be returned within 24 hr, says Mike Hansen, spokesman for BPA.

�There is no surplus power to sell. We have to get it back. We can only send them as much as they send back to us,� he said.

The Northwest is now in a so-called �load-resource balance� meaning it can�t spare any power from its hydroelectric system unless the power is returned. The total water level in the reservoirs cannot be drawn down on balance, Hansen explains.

Additional power is being purchased from suppliers by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) with the full backing of the state and then resold directly to the ISO for the same price. Fluckiger said the DWR is paying $200-$800/MW-hr for the power.

�If the legislation is not passed giving the DWR the funds to buy the power, the suppliers might not be willing to sell to that agency either,� Fluckiger said. Without a state appropriation, the problem of keeping the electricity flowing in California will just continue to worsen. Emergency legislation is currently before the California state legislature authorizing those funds.

The ISO has had to shop in real time for thousands of megawatts of power to keep the lights on these past several weeks. Complicating its task is the deteriorating financial condition of the utilities which must pay the ISO for the power. There are doubts among suppliers that they will ever receive the full price of power sales to the California Power Exchange or to the ISO, exacerbating the energy crisis in California.