WASHINGTON – Southern California can meet its electricity needs this summer as long as the region doesn't face extreme conditions such as an earthquake or forest fires coupled with high temperatures.
But in a worst-case scenario,expect outages.
That's what members of the House subcommittee on energy and resources learned Wednesday.
“Energy in California has been a problem for so many years. Today it's a lot better than what it was,” said Yakout Mansour,president of the California Independent System Operator,the agency that operates the state's energy wholesale power grid and connects energy suppliers to utilities.
Despite what he called an improved energy situation,Mansour discussed a critical transmission line that could cause blackouts in Southern California.
The transmission line that runs from the Pacific Northwest to Los Angeles,called the Pacific DC Intertie,has experienced 64 outages since mid-June.
Mansour said that the number of outages is a concern,but the ISO has worked to identify problems. He said that if Southern California's needs are higher than average or if there is outage on another transmission line,there could be outages.
“Lines are vulnerable. They can be affected by forest fires,floods or earthquakes,” he said.
Contingency plans include transmission line upgrades and partnerships with neighboring power grid operators to meet demand under the most extreme conditions.
In addition,the ISO has its annual summer conservation campaign,which notifies the public 24 hours in advance of a likely energy crunch.
Looking into the future,Mansour said the ISO has taken steps to meet California's energy needs,including the creation of four major transmission lines in the next five years. They could reduce costs and the ISO's need to turn to outside energy suppliers
Three of these lines will be in Southern California. However,Southern Californians won't reap additional energy benefits for at least two years.
“Transmission lines take five to seven years to develop,and within that time,it takes two to three years to construct them,” Mansour said.
This is a favorable outlook,considering California's 2000-2001 energy crisis,a time of rolling blackouts when energy suppliers and traders,including Enron,cut off power plants and used secretive strategies to manipulate the market and raise energy prices.
Besides Southern California,the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission identified New York,Ontario and Southwest Connecticut as areas with potentially critical energy supply issues in its 2006 Summer Energy Market Assessment. According to the report,a hot summer could trigger power outages. All four regions were also trouble spots in 2004 and 2005.
In August 2003,New York,most of the Northeast and parts of Canada faced 29 hours without electricity,during the largest blackout in American history. The outage knocked 21 power plants offline.
Committee members said they thought California was doing a good job,but Rep. Darrell Issa,R-Calif.,the chairman,said New England needs contingency plans other than asking other regions to provide power during outages.
For now,Mansour asked Southern Californians to conserve energy to avoid emergencies.
“There is certainly a mindset to conservation – it's that you should use what you need,” he said. “For instance,during a time of a crisis,you can set your air conditioner to 78 degrees. It's still comfortable,and it makes a big difference in the demand.”