Electricity Cushion Short & Heat Early in SoCal

By Published On: May 2, 2008

In Southern California from April 26-29, residents sweltered under smoke-filled skies as the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power experienced surging power demand. Temperatures in the region soared into the mid- to high-90s in inland areas and cracked the century mark in the desert. Northeast of downtown Los Angeles, a brush fire forced a thousand residents to evacuate their homes in the town of Sierra Madre, which is nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Firefighters expect to extinguish the blaze sometime today. Meanwhile, as people turned on their air conditioners and fans, the muni experienced the highest demand for power in its history on any days in April, except for a few days that month in 2004. The muni’s load peaked at 3,878 MW on Saturday, April 26. The next day, hotter still, peak demand hit 4,186 MW. Although Monday cooled a bit, when businesses reopened the muni experienced a peak load of 4,817 MW. Normal week day usage is considered about 3,550 MW this time of year in the muni’s territory. The late April heat spell was the second in less than a month. A mid-April heat wave also spiked electricity demand in the muni’s territory. “The fact that we are seeing such high demand so early in the season is a wake-up call,” said David Nahai, LADWP general manager. “We need our customers to take energy saving steps.” He added that the city needs to “be ready for continued hot temperatures this summer.” Indeed, the National Weather Service’s April 17 long-term outlook forecasts hotter than normal temperatures in most of California and throughout the much of the West from May through at least September. “Greater probabilities of above normal temperatures are primarily in the West,” according to the forecast. Temperatures are likely to remain higher than normal in the Southwest into next winter, the forecast added. The statewide grid managed by the California Independent System Operator, did not have shortages, according to spokesperson Gregg Fishman. Summer supply shortages may be in the forecast, however, for CAISO in Southern California. While the grid operator expects state utilities’ demand-response programs to allow for 400 (n)MW of dropped use during periods of short electricity supplies, the state’s expectation of new supplies have been delayed until after this summer. For instance, the two 500 MW peaker plants expected to be built by Southern California Edison subsidiary Edison Mission, have been delayed. In part, according to regulators, the delay is due to air pollution concerns. In its worst-case scenario, with low out-of-state electricity imports (less than 8,000 MW), electricity supplies in Southern California could drop to negative 5 percent. “Imports are a big factor,” said Fishman. In Northern California, with no imports at all, there remains a small cushion of supply to prevent rolling blackouts, according to the grid operator. In LADWP territory, peak demand is forecast at 6,282 MW, said Joseph Ramallo, muni director of public affairs. “We could see that surpassed,” he added, if it is extremely hot. However, he noted that LADWP has a reserve with 7,300 MW of generating capacity, including 300 from renewable power installations. Unless it has distribution problems, he said, muni customers can expect adequate power supplies.

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