02 March 2001
Blackouts roll by block: Heads roll by November
Californians are really feeling the power pinch. How has the power problem plagued manufacturers? Is there an end in sight? The following are just some samples of end-user comments that have crossed InTech's desk:
Seems to be predictable
"I work in a manufacturing plant that has not lost power. Besides an uninterruptible power supply backup for the computers, we have no contingency plan to keep running. If we were to have an outage, we would curtail operations much like a power outage caused by weather.
"Most large processing operations that are on interruptible contracts have backup equipment and contingency plans. Some of these operations have gone offline 15-20 times in the past year. They have established protocols with the distribution utility for impending-outage notification. Discounts for interruptible power are available only to large industrial accounts.
"Rolling blackouts impact smaller customers, often with little or no warning. The time of day seems to be predictable (3 to 6 p.m.), though, so adjusting operating schedules as part of a conservation measure is a prudent step. Small customers also face the loss of rate freezes, making cost prediction more difficult.
"Are these short-term problems only? Most customers are not sure, and therefore they cannot clearly justify any new investment.
"California's deregulation program was ambitious compared to other states. It has uncovered flaws that need repair before moving forward," said Richard Hafner, a production leader at Amplify.Net Inc. in Palo Alto.
No worse than a storm
"I work out of an office which up to now has had no outages. We are in Block 14, and they have only gone to Block 9 as the blackouts roll. In that we are in an office situation, we are subject to one-hour outages only.
"Our server is on a UPS. If we were to go dark, individual PCs would go down, but no worse than it would be during the storms that shut us down. At least in this case we know how long we'll be down," said Tom Crawford, project manager at Pacific Gas & Electric in Newark.
A conflict of interest?
"We are having a community meeting with our local state representative tomorrow. Our past state representative stated, when asked last week if it was true that Southern California Edison (SCE) and Pacific Gas & Electric had a part in writing the deregulation bill, that they basically wrote it.
"You might want to find out what Edison International is doing since they have SCE (distribution) and Mission Energy (generation) as profit centers. That appears to be a conflict of interest, with one profit center making millions selling energy to the other. SCE says they will declare bankruptcy unless they receive a large rate increase," said Robert Harrison, president of Conex Systems in Huntington Beach.
Talk to my lawyer
"A sudden power shutdown would adversely affect a lot of our important data. We have informed our power company that they will have to talk with our legal department if they cannot forewarn us as to coming blackouts. So far, there have been no outages. We have no backup system that can run our facility should we have a blackout. As to our plans for alternative electricity sources, we have none. But we may think about it. We have a lot of wind and too many solar opportunities. The city is thinking of starting a solar-powered system. We presently pay about 5 cents per kilowatt hour," said John Dukes, senior engineer at Matrix Motor Co. in Ridgecrest.
L.A. is fat and sassy
"Here in Los Angeles, we get our power from the Department of Water & Power. They've got plenty of capacity because they did not jump on the deregulation bandwagon a few years ago," said Max Kopp, vice president at Validyne Engineering.
Hourly workers go home
"We haven't had an energy-shortage-related cutoff as yet. There have been some nearby. We do not have backup power that can run the plant during an outage. If the power fails, we at the manufacturing plant wait for about an hour and then send the hourly workers home.
"I think plants should and will have power backup in the next few years, as will small cities and local areas. I know some homes that have their own power generators, but then they are pollution generators," said Jim Pinto, founder of Action Instruments in San Diego.
InTech senior technical editor Nicholas Sheble
compiled this report.