Heat Wave Forces California to Declare Power Emergency

By Armando Duke

Houston, TX - The California Resources Agency declared a stage-2 power emergency Monday thanks to a severe heat wave engulfing the state that regulators fear could lead to the most severe energy shortfall California's seen in five years if it persists.

The California Independent System Operator declared a stage-2 emergency at 1pm Pacific Standard Time Monday. The move means utilities are allowed to restrict power to some customers who accept cuts during emergencies in exchange for lower rates. A stage-2 emergency goes into effect when the surplus electricity falls below 5 percent, but must be first declared by the System Operator, before utilities can begin cutting power supplies.

Yakout Mansour, the System Operator's chief executive told reporters, "Conservation is now critical." He further stated that California may be facing a stage-3 emergency if the heat wave continues.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said the heat wave was taxing utilities across the western states to "the limits of its capacity."

The California governor ordered state agencies to reduce power consumption by 25 percent by limiting air conditioning and lighting.

Power consumption is already surpassing previous forecasts made by the system operator, which said earlier this year that demand would peak at about 46,000 megawatts under 'most likely conditions' and about 49,000 megawatts under adverse conditions. The current heat wave is causing electricity to be consumed at a rate of 52,000 megawatts, a new record. The previous record of 49,036 megawatts was set at the end of last week.

California's System Operator first called for conservation during the current heat wave on July 14. The state set records for power demand on July 17 and July 21, breaking the high established a year ago. California endured its first stage 1 emergency of the year two days ago after a power plant unexpectedly shut down.

Mansour said that rolling blackouts were likely to occur late in the afternoon, when energy consumption is at its highest. Since July 13, 765,000 Southern California Edison customers have suffered blackouts.

Over the weekend, 53,000 customers in the San Diego area lost power, San Diego Gas & Electric said it has since restored power to those homes.

Pacific Gas & Electric said that 847,000 customers have been without power since July 21 after transformers failed due to the power load caused the heat wave.

Sixteen-thousand customers served by the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power are also without electricity, down from 30,000 yesterday, the agency said.

Meteorologists are blaming a high-pressure system for the prolonged heat wave that's heating the air, dampening sea breezes and reducing cloud cover across much of the West.

At this point, meteorologists are unsure how long the high-pressure system will blanket the west