“Livin? Large” Causes Demand to Surge in Inland Empire

By Published On: August 14, 2004

As temperatures soared past the century mark in inland coastal valleys this week, Southern California Edison was able to supply its customers with a record amount of power, though the utility joined an industrywide call for voluntary conservation. Under smoggy skies, Edison reached a new record peak load of 20,518 MW on August 10, surpassing its previous high of 20,144 MW, said spokesperson Gil Alexander. The record demand came after the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) declared August 10 a ?power watch day.? The next day, the state broke load records, hitting 44,872 MW, said CAISO spokesperson Lorie O?Donely. On August 10, peak load was 44,497 MW, surpassing the previous record of 44,360 MW, set July 21 this year. Since last month, five record loads have been reached. Pacific Gas & Electric, which faced high temperatures in its inland service areas, joined in the call for voluntary conservation as statewide peak load soared. Recent record loads no doubt have been temperature-driven, but lurking beneath the heat is a 6.6 percent increase in average hourly load for June compared to a year ago, according to CAISO. Nowhere is this increase more pronounced than in the fast-growing Inland Empire, a series of hot valleys just west of the mountains that ring the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, according to Anjali Sheffrin, CAISO director of market analysis. Over the past year alone, Riverside County?s population grew from 1.719 million to 1.777 million, or by 3.4 percent, more than double the 1.5 percent increase seen statewide, according to the California Department of Finance. ?We?ve been projecting a 4-5 percent increase in load on an annual basis,? said Steve Badgett, Riverside Public Utilities assistant director for energy delivery. ?Our challenge is to stay two to three years ahead.? To deal with rising demand, Riverside opened the 40 MW Springs Generation Plant in 2002. During peak periods, the muni sometimes shut down pumps in its water delivery system for the city. Edison believes, however, that part of the dramatic increase in demand may be due to reduced conservation efforts, according to Ron Nunnally, Edison director of federal regulation. The utility, he said, projects only 2.2 percent annual peak load growth in the Inland Empire over the next 10 years?albeit greater than the 1.9 percent a year projection for systemwide peak load growth. ?Primarily the impact is the need to expand our distribution system,? said Nunnally. Greater use of air conditioning is the chief driver of the relative increase in the Inland Empire, he said, though dramatic population and economic growth also are factors. ?We are all of a sudden really taking off,? said Paul Hiller, president and chief executive officer of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership. Fueling the boom is the region?s lower cost structure. The region is a Mecca for young, educated, upwardly mobile families, according to the partnership. ?We?re seeing the 3,000- to 4,000-square-foot home to be the norm out here,? said Badgett. Such homes likely will use more electricity for air conditioning than the average Southern California household because of both their size and their location, according to Nunnally. ?That?s one of the things that challenge us with supply? later in the decade, he said. By comparison, in coastal communities, a 2,000-square-foot home fetches a million dollars or more. In the Inland Empire, upscale homes twice as large sell for half the price. Such deals are propelling construction of some 52,000 new homes in the region this year, half of the new housing being built statewide, said Michael Bazdarich, an economist with the Anderson Forecast at the University of California at Los Angeles. Esmael Adibi, director of Chapman University?s A. Gary Anderson Center for Economic Research, projects that the region will create a net 34,000 new jobs this year. Part of that employment growth includes more energy-intensive factory jobs, according to Bazdarich. It all adds up to more aggregate personal income in the region, which is up 5.7 percent over last year, from $88 billion to $93 billion, according to the Chapman University economic research center. Rising affluence has enabled people to fill their large homes with a growing number of computers, televisions, and other electricity-gobbling appliances. While they may be more efficient than yesteryear?s models, their increasing numbers may be offsetting the benefits of lower energy conservation standards. ?It pretty much balances out,? said Badgett, who said that only a very small percentage of the increased load is due to greater numbers of electronic devices.

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