- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2001


Power problems could spread into the Northeast this summer, electricity grids in Texas and the Pacific Northwest are being watched closely, and California could average 20 hours of blackouts a week, electricity industry experts say.

The North American Electric Reliability Council, an industry-sponsored watchdog organization, said in a report Tuesday that California's power problems this summer are likely to be worse than even state officials have predicted, with 260 hours of rolling blackouts an average of 20 hours a week likely because of a power shortfall that could be as much as 5,000 megawatts during peak demand periods.

A megawatt is enough power to serve 1,000 homes.

While most of the country will have enough electricity, the council's report also warned of potential problems in the Northeast, with possible power disruptions if there is a persistent heat wave, and in the Pacific Northwest as well as possibly in Texas. The New York City area could have blackouts if there are transmission problems on lines into the region, the report said.

While Texas has plenty of electricity, it "should be closely watched" because the state is shifting into a retail competitive market in June and consolidating some grid-management activities, David Cook, the reliability council's general counsel, said.

"There is no magic bullet, no single thing to be done that will solve the challenges we face" in trying to assure electricity reliability, Mr. Cook said in testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

In the Pacific Northwest, there is expected to be enough power to meet summer demand despite low hydroelectric generation as a result of a severe drought. But, the report said, if the region's drought continues, there could be rolling blackouts next winter.

In other developments Tuesday, the Energy Department said there were some signs that gasoline prices may ease around Memorial Day as refiners have revved up production and inventories were beginning to build.

But John Cook, director of the Energy Information Administration's petroleum division, cautioned any refinery disruption or pipeline problem could cause prices to soar again. "Today, little cushion exists," he said at a House hearing.

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