Cool California has kept summer of gloom at bay – for now |

Cool California has kept summer of gloom at bay – for now

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Cruel summer? Try cool summer.

So far, California has avoided the apocalyptic season of high temperatures and rolling blackouts that many had predicted.

”I think whoever is in control of who gets blackouts and who doesn’t is doing a great job,” San Francisco florist Conchita Reyes, 68, said Wednesday from her Market Street shop.

Much of the thanks goes to Mother Nature, even as she has left the rest of the country sweltering.

A mass of colder-than-average water continues to lurk off the California coast, dragging down average temperatures in some places to the lowest levels in a decade.

That has kept beachgoers bundled up and led to reduced air conditioning use, which on hot days can make up nearly one-third of peak demand for electricity.

In downtown Los Angeles, the average temperature in July was a mild 71 degrees, or 3 degrees below normal, according to the National Weather Service.

”It’s the coolest since 1991,” meteorologist Bruce Rockwell said.

Earlier this year, analysts predicted searing temperatures would help plunge the state into darkness at regular intervals throughout the summer. One analyst estimated the state would experience 200 hours of blackouts through the summer.

The last blackout in California occurred on May 8. In July, the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s electric grid, called just two power emergencies – four fewer than July 2000.

Cool temperatures explain only part of the picture, however. The state has recently added about 1,500 megawatts of new generating capacity. And Californians continue to be fairly miserly in their electricity use.

Data released Wednesday show Californians used 5.2 percent less power in July than they did during the same month last year. The reduction, though significant, is less than the 12.4 percent cut racked up in June.

Gregg Fishman, a spokesman for the ISO, said the cooler temperatures left less of a margin for savings, explaining the drop.

”The hotter the weather, the greater the savings,” Fishman said.

Some of the savings have come at a cost to taxpayers: between July 1 and 20, the state sold back 177,571 megawatt-hours of surplus power it had previously purchased. The state spent $118.09 per megawatt-hour for the power, counting on high temperatures to keep the wholesale price of power high. It sold the excess at just $36.95.

”I don’t think anyone could have anticipated back in January that we’d be sitting here in July with a bit of a surplus,” said Oscar Hidalgo, a spokesman for the state Department of Water Resources.

The end is near, however. By week’s end, temperatures are expected to begin rising to typical August levels.

”It won’t be unusual, it’ll be normal,” Rockwell said.

Fishman, of the ISO, said the potential for rolling blackouts would return with the heat.

”There’s been this convergence of positive factors that’s helped us get through the summer. Can we rely on that convergence to continue? I don’t think so,” Fishman said. ”The weather is really the wild card.”

Officials pleaded for further conservation.

”This is no time for complacency,” Gov. Gray Davis said in a statement released Wednesday. ”The dog days of August will test our resolve.”

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