Blackouts End, But Power Crunch Continues

Officials from the California Independent System Operator’s office, which controls 75 percent of the state’s energy grid, ordered a second day of rolling blackouts throughout the state, saying demand for electricity is still outstripping the power-starved state’s reserves.

The ISO said outages, which lasted for nearly four hours, were necessary to stave off a collapse of the state’s overworked power system.

The blackouts affected hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses before they were called off after an emergency infusion of power from nearby states. But the ISO warned more outages could be instituted this evening.

Similar blackouts yesterday cut power to more than a million customers throughout Northern and Southern California.

Officials yesterday ordered a stage 3 power alert — the most severe level of electricity emergency. The alert was downgraded to a stage 2 last night and extended into this morning.

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

Yesterday’s outages were the first to hit the state’s southern areas. Rolling blackouts were previously imposed in Northern California for two days in late January.

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 yesterday 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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