Calif. Co's Ignored Power Cuts


Sunday, February 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Power regulators say many of California's businesses have enjoyed lower electricity rates while ignoring the state's calls to cut power and help avert rolling blackouts.

Only 62 percent of Southern California Edison's so-called ``interruptible customers'' cut power when asked, according to a report by the Public Utilities Commission. Some 90 percent of Pacific Gas & Electric customers did so,

Under the program, businesses earn a discount of roughly 15 percent on their power bill in exchange for curtailing use during times of peak demand.

``Numerous customers, including some schools and hospitals, 'gamed' Edison's tariffs,'' said the report, issued Thursday. ``Edison's low compliance rate has likely been caused by a number of customers who should never have signed up for Edison's program in the first place.''

The PUC estimated customers who signed interruptible contracts with SoCal Edison, PG&E and San Diego Gas and Electric have saved $2 billion since 1986.

Utility officials said the slump in compliance reflected difficult times.

``The compliance rate is certainly not what we'd like to see, but it has certainly been to a degree that it has prevented rolling blackouts in the Southern California area,'' SoCal Edison spokesman Steve Conroy said Saturday.

Until recently, power outages were rare, occurring primarily during hot summer months. But over the past three months, calls for interruptions became an almost daily routine.

On Sunday, California was to enter its 27th day of unprecedented Stage 3 Alerts, which means power reserves threatened to fall below 1.5 percent. The alert was to remain in affect until at least midnight Monday.

California's roughly 1,700 interruptible customers have had the option of leaving the lights on during the voluntary outages, but agreed to pay 100 times normal rates for doing so.

Last year PG&E customers were assessed $2.2 million in penalties for ignoring conservation calls, while SoCal Edison customers were assessed $92.4 million. But some of those fines may go unpaid.

Companies cried foul after some were asked to kill power for six hour stretches, sometimes three times per day.

In response, last month the PUC voted to suspend the penalties, reasoning that interruptible customers have borne a disproportionate burden during the state's power crisis.

Businesses now face no penalty for refusing to cut their power, but will continue to receive the rate discount for joining the program.

The report suggested a series of improvements to the program. Among these were a review to see which current participants might be removed from the program.