California's power grid is prepared for a hot summer, energy regulators and utility managers told a panel of lawmakers March 29. However, limited in-state hydropower and the potential for fires that could interrupt transmission lines could create problems. "Supply margins look good," Jim Detmers, California Independent System Operator vice-president of operations, told the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee. However, he warned that there are "some challenges" ahead. "We do have a less-than-adequate hydro supply and snowpack," said Detmers. In addition, the dry winter has created tinderbox conditions in the mountain forests and brushlands where crucial transmission lines run. The conditions, according to Detmers, will likely cause utilities to buy higher-cost power supplies to replace traditionally cheap hydropower this summer. If next winter is dry, he predicted, the lack of hydropower will shift from being merely a price problem to an actual power supply shortage for the state's residents and businesses. A March 28 Department of Water Resources report showed that the state's mountain snowpack shrank during March - a month in which it usually grows. "Instead of seeing an increase of five or six inches in March, we lost eight or nine inches," said Frank Gehrke, department snow survey section chief. "That's a pretty bleak month." Measurements of the Sierra snowpack ranged between 35 and 55 percent of normal for this time of year. Pacific Gas & Electric estimates that its extensive hydropower resources will be at about 75 to 77 percent of their normal energy capacity this summer, said William Tom, the utility's short-term supply manager. To stretch that hydropower, he said, PG&E will conserve water for periods of peak demand. But overall, the state's grid is expected to be able to meet soaring summer demand. "We are as prepared as we've ever been to meet load this summer," said Paul Clanon, California Public Utilities Commission deputy executive director. He pointed to at least four new peaking turbines that Southern California Edison is expected to have in place by August. He said there should be about 500 MW of added flexibility in the statewide grid as a result of increased enrollments in utility demand-response programs. Customers that sign up receive reduced rates in exchange for agreeing to shut off air conditioners and other energy-using systems to prevent the grid from overloading during periods of peak electricity demand. "The risk of outages is well within acceptable limits," said Jeffrey Byron, California Energy Commission member. He said there is only about a 2.5 to 4 percent chance the grid will experience a Stage Three emergency this summer. A Stage Three triggers involuntary rolling blackouts. The chances that utility customers on interruptible service in exchange for lower rates will see service cut is about 40 percent, he predicted. The highest risk of service interruptions is expected in Southern California. Officials also credited the 115-117 percent resource-adequacy requirement cushion for utility generation supplies, completion of many transmission upgrade projects, and closer coordination within the industry on grid operations. They predicted that the state will keep up with power demand as long as generation and transmission projects continue to be built as planned.