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The BBC's David Willis
"This is an emergency ... which requires an urgent solution"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 20 March, 2001, 07:40 GMT
California orders statewide blackouts
John Warda, an elementary school crossing guard, pitches in to assist drivers in San Francisco
With traffic lights not working, Californians directed cars by hand
California power officials, citing a severe shortage of electricity, have extended a series of rolling blackouts across the state to relieve strain on the grid.

A second round of controlled power cuts on Monday evening followed outages earlier in the day which officials said were necessary because of dry weather and technical faults.

They lasted longer and affected more of the state than a round of power cuts in January, and many consumers feared they were a sign of what to expect over the summer.

While the January power cuts affected only northern California and lasted about two hours, Monday's first round of blackouts lasted four hours and took in southern California as well as the north.

'Energy crunch'

President George W Bush said the country faced a serious energy problem.

US President George W Bush with Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham
Mr Bush is working on a new energy policy
"The energy crunch we're in is a supply-and-demand issue, and we need to reduce demand and increase supply," Mr Bush said.

Mr Bush, a former Texas oilman, spoke during a meeting of his national energy policy development group.

The team is expected to make recommendations by late April or early May on how to grapple with shortages and increasing prices.

Monday's blackouts were ordered by the California Independent System Operator (ISO), which manages about 75% of the transmission grid serving the state's 34 million residents.

This is the third time rolling blackouts have hit the north, following two days of outages on 17 and 18 January.

Low reserves

Warm weather in the south-west, driving up demand for air conditioning power, combined with a transformer fire and a lack of hydropower in the north-west, has left California with dangerously low electricity reserves, the ISO said.

Gray Davis
The governor is funding more electricity purchases
It ordered the state's two biggest utilities, Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison, to cut a total of 500 megawatts, enough power for roughly 500,000 homes.

The blackouts were called in a desperate last-minute bid to avoid a widespread collapse of the entire electric system.

SoCal Edison ordered blackouts in the Los Angeles-area cities of Chino, Beverly Hills, Long Beach, Visalia, Banning, Kern and Santa Monica, spokesman Tom Boyd said.

PG&E spokesman Ron Low said the San Francisco-based utility was ordered to cut 196 megawatts for one hour at noon.

He said it would affect about 105,000 customers, but did not specify which communities were being hit.

The power grid last ordered rolling blackouts in January when more than 675,000 homes and businesses were affected for more than two hours at a time.

Electricity imports

Hospitals and airports were exempt.

An operator at the California Independent System Operator
California's energy agency has warned of a power emergency
Power alerts were lifted in February, after several power plants were repaired and more electricity was imported.

But California is anticipating a summer of power shortages and the possibility of further rolling blackouts.

Governor Gray Davis's administration has committed $2.7bn (1.9bn) - about $45m a day - for power purchases.

That will be repaid when the state issues an estimated $10bn in revenue bonds in May approved for cheaper, long-term power contracts.

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See also:

11 Feb 01 | Business
UK generator eyes California move
02 Feb 01 | Americas
California approves power plan
23 Jan 01 | Business
California may issue crisis bonds
18 Jan 01 | Americas
California blackout: Why it happened
16 Mar 01 | Business
California faces more power cuts
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