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Friday, 16 March, 2001, 15:05 GMT
California faces more power cuts
Power lines
California faces more power cuts this summer
California faces further power cuts in the summer despite desperate efforts to secure a stable supply of energy to the state.

Power blackouts "appear inevitable" and could also spill over into other Western states, according to President George W. Bush's administration.

An operator at the California Independent System Operator
California's energy agency has warned of a power emergency
Industry experts have estimated that California could experience between 20 and 200 hours of rolling blackouts during hot summer days when air conditioners are being used.

Californians were plunged into another emergency situation this week after a power alert by the state's energy agency - the California Independent System Operator.

The agency declared the alert after losing crucial electricity imports from the Pacific Northwest.

A solution?

The state, which has already suffered three blackouts and numerous "brownouts" since June, is battling to resolve its energy problems.

To find a long-term solution, the Californian governor Gray Davis is negotiating to purchase transmission lines from three of the state's major utilities.

In exchange, the utilities would sell electricity to the state below market rates for 10 years.

The state is also turning to conservation and has passed a new law to curb night-time use of energy by businesses.

Companies that don't comply face up to $1,000 in fines.

A dark summer

Governor Davis believes that the new law would avoid summer blackouts.

However, the Bush administration does not share his optimism.

Californian sunrise
Governor Gray is optimistic the summer won't be plagued by power cuts
"The problem will get worse and blackouts this summer will be inevitable," energy secretary Spence Abraham told a Senate hearing on Thursday.

However, the administration is still hoping that other states won't be affected and Mr Abraham has discussed the possibility of obtaining additional power from Mexico.

California's energy crunch

California's shortage of power stems from deregulation of the state's energy market in 1996, which barred utilities from passing on higher prices for wholesale electricity to consumers.

Price caps will not increase or reduce demand

Energy secretary Spence Abraham
Local utilities Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric have since incurred massive debts, and are on the brink of bankruptcy.

Californian law-makers have pleaded for price controls on wholesale electricity, but the Bush administration, which is against market regulations - and is close to the energy industry - remains deeply opposed to this.

"Any action we take must either help increase supply or reduce demand... Price caps will not increase or reduce demand," said Mr Abraham at the Senate hearing.

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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
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