Blackouts missed as state says generators withheld power
SACRAMENTO (AP) – California narrowly avoided rolling blackouts Tuesday, as state officials accused power generators of withholding electricity to avoid new price caps mandated by federal regulators.
However, the state’s grid operator disputed the California Department of Water Resources’ complaint to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
DWR spokesman Oscar Hidalgo said generators withheld between 600 and 1,500 megawatts of electricity from California Monday because of uncertainty over price caps FERC enacted June 19 for 11 Western states. That’s enough power for 450,000 to 1.125 million homes.
”Either way, it’s a significant amount of power that was lifted (Monday) during crunch time,” Hidalgo said. The lost power was enough to cut reserves from about 7 percent to less than 5 percent, he said, forcing a higher state of emergency Monday.
It’s too soon to draw that conclusion, said Brian Rahman, the California Independent System Operator’s manager of market engineering.
He said the lost power could also have been sent to help southern Nevada, which experienced its first blackouts Monday. He noted the FERC price caps cover every state in the Western power grid, and that generators are required to sell it as necessary.
Hidalgo said the state did not witness the same problem Tuesday.
Rahman defended the ISO’s decision not to artificially set a new and lower power price cap Monday, as it could have under the FERC order. The current cap of nearly $92 per megawatt hour has been in place since May 31; the ISO could have lowered that cap Monday to about $85 per megawatt hour by stretching out its emergency declaration.
”The ISO’s not going to get into the practice of manipulating the price just ‘because,”’ said Rahman. ”We know we’re going to be under much more scrutiny now as we call these things. … We’re not making decisions solely on the basis of wanting to or not wanting to change that price.”
The ISO’s decision would have cut the price level across the West, including Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
High temperatures across California and the Desert Southwest prompted the ISO to issue a 60-minute notice to consumers that rolling blackouts might be needed. However, the ISO almost immediately rescinded the notice because grid operators were able to quickly import more electricity from other states.
”Everybody’s fighting for the same megawatts out there because of the regional nature of the heat wave,” said ISO spokeswoman Stephanie McCorkle.
ISO spokesman Gregg Fishman said conservation helped stave off blackouts Monday, and would likely be just as important Tuesday.
”We’re seeing 2,000 to 4,000 megawatts (of conservation) off the peak at various days and times, and that’s huge,” Fishman said. The savings is enough to power 1.5 to 3 million homes.
On the Net: Track the state’s blackout warnings on the Web at http://www.caiso.com/SystemStatus.html.
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