Plan also in works to give law enforcement even earlier alerts
The San Francisco Chronicle
Gov. Gray Davis will issue an executive order today requiring that Californians be given at least one hour’s notice before blackouts hit, according to a top administration official.
The one-hour notice is double what the California Independent System Operator, managers of the state’s electrical grid, proposed earlier this week. The ISO board is scheduled to discuss its plan at a meeting today.
Details of Davis’ plan were still being worked out, said the administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But any plan would have to order the ISO to give more notice of potential blackouts.
Davis also hopes to give 48-hour and then 24-hour notices of probable blackout scenarios. Administration officials said the two-day notice would go to law enforcement, while everyone would get a 24-hour warning.
Business groups welcomed the executive order.
“We need to plan, we need to make adjustments in business schedules,” said Jeanne Cain, vice president for government relations for the California Chamber of Commerce. “There are concerns about employee safety issues. The more notice we have, the better we can accommodate the blackout.”
Carl Guardino, an ISO board member and president of the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group, has been pushing for an advanced notification plan and working with the governor.
“Sixty minutes is twice as good” as 30 minutes, he said.
With little doubt that blackouts will hit this summer, lawmakers have been searching for a way to make them easier on residents and businesses.
“As much notice as possible would be helpful. It’s helpful to have some advance notice for planning purposes, but small businesses will still be hurt by the blackouts,” said Shirley Knight, assistant state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.
“Most small businesses are in the service sector so they’re open during the day, which means small-business owners aren’t going to be able to recoup those blackout costs like a manufacturer might be able to,” Knight said.
But one consumer group said Davis should be doing more to stop the blackouts from happening in the first place.
“It’s like saying you’re going to know a half hour earlier that an earthquake is coming,” said Doug Heller of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “We should be stopping blackouts by standing up to the energy generators, rather than giving us an extra 30 minutes.”
The Independent System Operator’s proposed plan for forecasting potential blackouts envisions a system that would provide a 24-hour notice of high-demand days. A “Power Watch” would be declared whenever a Stage 1 or Stage 2 alert is likely, while a “Power Warning” would be issued whenever there is at least a 50 percent chance of a Stage 3 alert, when electricity reserves drop below 1.5 percent.
Until now, the agency has refused to give more than a few minutes’ warning of blackouts, saying it did not want to alarm people when there was still a chance that a last-minute purchase of power could stave off blackouts.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said it would welcome the advance notice to be able to notify customers who rely on electricity for life-critical equipment and large businesses.
“We welcome advance notice from the ISO that would allow us to communicate to customers about pending rotating outages,” said Ron Low, a spokesman for PG&E.
The public safety aspect must be taken into account, said one consumer group.
“Blackouts have serious consequences, not just economic,” said Mindy Spatt, spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network in San Francisco. “They create public safety hazards, and all of those issues cannot be addressed from warnings. But knowing in advance is better.”
The ISO also has been working to upgrade its Web site to provide the most current information about how much electricity is being used and how much is available. It will also establish a system this summer through which that information can be sent in an hourly e-mail.
This information may make it easier for larger users of electricity to plan their operations.