Blackouts Could Dog LA This Summer, Agencies Warn

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LOS ANGELES (CN) – Energy agencies told the LA City Council on Tuesday that customers face up to 14 days of blackouts this summer in the aftermath of this year's massive methane gas leak – an assertion a consumer group calls misleading.

At a Tuesday morning council meeting, The California Independent System Operator director Tom Doughty and other energy officials outlined a plan to cope with potential blackouts in the wake of curtailed operations at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field.

A massive methane gas leak began on Oct. 23 at the facility and lasted more than 100 days, displacing thousands in the adjacent Porter Ranch community, before operator SoCalGas plugged the breach in February.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is working with the California Independent System Operator, the California Energy Commission and California Public Utilities Commission to create an Aliso Canyon reliability action plan to combat what it says are potential blackouts.

Doughty was part of a panel that told the city council on Tuesday that consumers can expect 16 days of gas curtailment if the underground storage facility is not used, and 14 days of blackouts.

He said that gas curtailment would not necessarily lead to blackouts but noted that the storage facility has a "very far reach," serving 17 Southern California power plants that have 10,000 megawatts of power-generating capacity.

"Our studies show that 14 of those 16 days pose a significant risk to electric service and that risk is not just significant in the number of possible interruptions but in their size. Several million people could be affected by outages of this nature. This is a very serious matter, a life and safety matter," Doughty said.

Last week, Consumer Watchdog said that the California Public Utilities Commission, Department of Water and Power, and Aliso Canyon operator SoCalGas had misled the public about what would happen if operations at the storage field are curtailed.

In an April 12letter, Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court said that agency reports were "based on false information and key omissions."

Court said reports on curtailment failed to take into account a "huge" Department of Water and Power-controlled natural gas reserve in Wyoming. He said the report made "inaccurate statements" about an alternative storage field 10 miles from Aliso Canyon.

"The reports mischaracterize the capacity and nature of other reserves and power plants as wells. They also use inflated estimates of electric natural gas generation demand and make unsupported statements about pipeline capacity," Court wrote in the letter.

A city motion requesting that the Department of Water and Power report to the City Council states that the gas leak left Aliso Canyon at one-fifth capacity and regulators have forbidden new gas injections until 114 aging wells are inspected.

It could be months before the facility is running at full capacity, "potentially impacting power reliability to millions of customers in Southern California," the motion states.

Officials outlined a plan to lessen the risk of blackouts but said that no plan would eliminate blackouts altogether. It is critical that consumers mitigate the threat of blackouts by reducing natural gas and electricity use, they said.

Councilmember Mitch Englander said during the meeting that the plan left voters with "no choice."

"There's no vote in front of us. They're simply letting us know that on one hand we're either going to have power failures because we've become so dependent with this umbilical cord to our lives, and/or turn the facilities back on that we know will fail – that we know with certainty are going to have problems," Englander said.

The city council also voted 18-0 to establish the city's position regarding a bill put forth by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, to impose stricter regulations on natural gas storage wells.

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