More Rolling Blackouts Hit California

The state’s two largest utilities are expected to cut 500 megawatts today, roughly enough to power 500,000 homes.

Officials from the California Independent System Operator’s office, which controls 75 percent of the state’s energy grid, ordered a stage three power alert — the most severe level of electricity emergency.

Power regulators say warm weather in the Southwest has driven up electricity demand in recent days, while water and natural gas reserves remain tight.

The outages are the first to hit the state’s southern areas and the third time customers in the north have felt the pinch. Rolling blackouts were previously imposed for two days in late January.

Southern California Edison has ordered blackouts in areas around Los Angeles including Chino, Beverly Hills, Long Beach, Visalia, Banning, Kern and Santa Monica.

San Francisco-based Pacific Gas and Electric said it was ordered to cut 196 megawatts for one hour beginning at noon Pacific time. A spokesman said the blackouts would affect 105,000 customers, but did not say specifically which areas would be hit.

Power alerts were lifted state-wide in February due to increases in imported electricity and the return of several damaged power plants to the grid.

California Gov. Gray Davis has committed $2.7 billion for power purchases, to be repaid by $10 billion in revenue bonds that will be issued this May. The utilities say they have lost $13 billion since last year because of high wholesale energy costs.

U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said today the energy crisis in California could worsen as summer approaches.

Addressing a U.S. Chamber of Commerce conference, Abraham said additional blackouts in California would be “inevitable,” as temperatures rise and energy demands increase.

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