California PUC allows business to apply for exemptions from blackouts

The California Public Utilities Commission said businesses can apply for exemptions to blackouts this summer if the business can show that a blackout would negatively impact public health and safety. The state is expected to have at a minimum 260 hours of blackouts this summer, according to a recent study by North American Electric Reliability Council.

May 21st, 2001


by Ann de Rouffignac
OGJ Online

HOUSTON, May 21 -- The California Public Utilities Commission said businesses can apply for exemptions to blackouts this summer if the business can show that a blackout would negatively impact public health and safety.

The state is expected to have at a minimum 260 hr of blackouts this summer, according to a recent study by North American Electric Reliability Council.

Commission Carl Wood said hospitals, police, fire stations, military facilities, and key communication outlets are already exempt. Under this new application process, the commission will add skilled nursing centers, medical laboratories, outpatient centers, and water and sewer districts. But individual facilities under these broad categories must apply separately to the commission to be considered for an exemption, Wood said.

So far, separate applications have been received from large sports stadiums asking for exemptions during events, he said.

Wood said some businesses may think they are exempt because they are on the same circuit of a currently exempt "essential use" customer. But utilities reconfigure circuits all the time. These businesses should file an application with the commission to get individual status.

Regulators also said refineries could also apply for exemptions from blackouts on a case by case basis if they can show the impact of a refinery shutdown on public health and safety.

"Refineries cannot be considered for exemptions for economic reasons," said Commissioner Carl Wood in a conference call Monday. "They are not essential use customers."

Adding the nursing centers, medical laboratories, and outpatient centers to the public service facilities such as police and fire, could bring total exemptions to the limit.

The California Independent System Operator said it needs at a minimum 40% of total load subject to blackouts.

"We are told there is already 50% (of the load) exempt," said Wood. "We only have 10% left to go."

Refinery owners say they should be exempt because electricity curtailments could severely reduce the supply of California-specific gasoline. The state imports little gasoline and shortages could cause a ripple effect through the economy.

Valero Energy Corp.'s 135,000-b/d Benicia refinery in the San Francisco Bay area produces 10% of the state's gasoline supply.

Rich Marcoglies, Benicia plant manager, said the refinery depends on the grid for electricity. He said a power curtailment for only a few minutes could force the refinery to shut down, and restarting it could take 2 or 3 days. He said equipment damage from sudden curtailment could mean a delay of several weeks for restart.

"We are still trying to work with the legislature on this," said Marcoglies. "A bill that would place refineries second on the power priorities list passed the state assembly unanimously but has gotten nowhere in the Senate."

Contact Ann de Rouffignac at annd@ogjonline.com

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