Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Crisis! or maybe not! Newspapers confound

Once again, two newspapers reporting the same story can come to totally different conclusions. According to the Sacramento Bee, we should be considering a possible power crisis.

With all generation and transmission systems operating normally, with a number of transmission line improvements, and with 1,700 new megawatts of generation since last summer, "we look to be in good shape," ISO spokeswoman Stephanie McCorkle said.

The ISO could count on nearly 50,000 megawatts of peak power available, but, as with all such supply-demand equations, it assumed that there would be no unexpected generation outages.

So, one might ask, what's the problem? The problem is that California is continuing to add population on a massive scale, thanks to continued high levels of immigration and births, and most of the growth is occurring in inland areas where summer temperatures are high. We've added about 2 million heat-sensitive humans to our population just since the 2001 energy crisis, and those Californians not only want to remain cool in their homes, but also need more air-conditioned schools, shopping centers and workplaces.

Power conservation programs help, of course, but power demand will continue to rise as we continue to add 5 million to 6 million to our population every decade - just as demands for water, housing, highway space and other growth-related services and facilities will continue to increase.

But the San Bernandino Sun, where the blazing sun makes it hot, hot, hot, says we have no worries.

During California's infamous power crisis of 2000-01, phrases such as "rolling blackouts' and "stage-one emergencies' became part of the lexicon in evening newscasts and frustrated discussions in break rooms.

As the state flirts with record power demand and a few spots set records for high temperatures, energy providers are confident the lights will stay on, barring some unforeseen glitch in the system.

"We do seem to have enough megawatts to meet the demand," said Stephanie McCorkle, spokeswoman for the California Independent System Operator, which runs much of the state's power grid.

Monday's prediction for a possible record level of demand fell short, thanks to temperatures in other areas that were much lower than expected, the Independent System Operator announced late in the day.

The common thread is how the papers interpret the possibility of an unforseen glitch in the system. Wasn't after all, the market manipulation of Enron et al, and unforseen glitch in the system? Shouldn't we expect the unforseen glitches if the system is to be, indeed, reliable?