Energy Department warns of power outages

Wednesday, June 28th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) -- With searing temperatures across much of the country and concern about electricity distribution lines, the
Energy Department is warning of a strong likelihood of power outages this summer, especially in the West and Northeast.

"We're concerned about the reliability of the electricity grid," Energy Secretary Bill Richardson told a House Commerce
Committee hearing Wednesday.

Sweltering heat across much of the West has prompted emergency calls this week in California for people to reduce power use amid warning that otherwise there could be rolling blackouts.

Earlier this month power problems and high demand caused an outage in the San Francisco area.

Richardson said the concern became more acute because of problems with electric generators in the Pacific Northwest and with
some loss of power in New England because of problems at the Seabrook nuclear plants in New Hampshire.

The situation has improved with the expected cooler weather in New England, Richardson said but "there could be some rolling
blackouts" in the Pacific Northwest and in California because of high demand.

California and other parts of the Southwest have suffered under a 100-degree heat wave which has increased electricity demand. At
the same time, generator problems in neighboring states, including the Northwest, have limited the amount of electricity available to California utilities.

Both the Pacific Northwest and California "remain very vulnerable to power outages" during peak demand periods, said
Richardson, adding the regions were "barely able to avoid" brownouts this past week.

The North American Electric Reliability Council, an industry-sponsored group, in a recent report forecast possible power problems this summer in the Northeast, the Southwest and California.

Nationwide, the council said that summer peak demand for electricity is expected to be 1.7 percent higher this year than last summer. It said that additional generating capacity has been put into place in Illinois, Texas and the Southeast where power interruptions were a problem last year, reducing the threat of
brownouts in those regions this summer.

Congress is considering legislation that would create a new organization to monitor and regulate reliability of the nation's electricity grids. But even if that bill passes, it won't have any impact this summer.

In March, an Energy Department report concluded the move toward more competition in the $220 billion electric power industry has
strained transmission and distribution lines. It said some utilities have focus more on competing for markets, cutting costs and maximizing prices than assuring that power is kept flowing.